Thursday, January 31, 2019

How Does Science Learning Happen?

Students LOVE science study!
I always leaned more towards the arts and humanities rather than science and math as a child. Yet I loved music and patterns which was a great inroad to math learning.

With regard to science, I enjoyed the outdoor world and cooking, but I wasn't as curious about how the physical aspects of the world worked. Instead I was much more interested in psychology, sociology, religion, and literature.

With deepening standards in the areas of science for elementary school students, I've had to to spend a lot of time thinking deeply about how students learn science while also strengthening my own background knowledge in the subject.

Typically at elementary schools, science was often a last consideration, the subject we taught after we focused on math, reading, and writing. But now, we're focusing much more on science topics, topics that I believe are well-led by the state's relatively new science standards, our systemwide science support, students' love of the subject, and the general community's push and interest in this discipline.

So what does this mean for me as a teacher and for my learners? The following actions have helped a lot:
  • Transforming my classroom to a science learning lab with great tables, storage cabinets, and lots of hands-on science learning materials.
  • Easy access to science information via video and text online and offline. I have lots of resources with which to teach science well.
  • A grant to work with the local Audubon organization, specifically we are working with our students and Drumlin Farm naturalists and environmental educators/experts to strengthen the environmental aspect of our science study.
  • Collegial interest and collaboration with regard to teaching this subject well.
  • The intersection of social emotional learning (SEL) and science standards.
  • Turning the standards into easy-to-understand and investigate questions. 
The focus now is to continually deepen my own knowledge and ability to teach this subject well. That work involves the following:
  • Continually bettering the teaching/learning environment by making materials easy to access and use for all members of the learning community, especially the students.
  • Deepening my knowledge via reading, research, and study. I'll likely sign up for a summer science study course, and our team is writing a grant to develop our knowledge in this area too.
  • I will continually develop and deepen students' learning experiences in the subject area to reflect the latests cognitive research with a focus on engagement, empowerment and good education in the subject. 
I welcome your thoughts and suggestions as I continue down this worthy teaching/learning path. 

Today's Priorities

From now through the February break and onto the April break is a very busy and profitable teaching time if done well. We have many full weeks of school and less interruptions than usual so we can teach, teach, teach.

Today's and tomorrow's focus is to complete a few assessments that we've planned on. Then tomorrow we'll continue our science study and reading to our kindergarten buddies. Onward.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Transparency and Truthfulness

Generally transparency and truthfulness work. When people are honest and straightforward in respectful ways, it saves time and helps people get to the root of a problem. On the other hand when tales are told and falsehoods spread, issues gain unnecessary complexity, worry, and fraught.

It's best to seek out transparency and truthfulness as often as possible and exemplify that in your own work. Superficiality and inauthenticity is easy to spot and creates distrustful relationships and cultures. So simply put, be transparent and honest with respect, empathy, and care. Onward.


Why nasty?

I imagine that we've all been nasty from time to time, some of us more than others. What causes this unpleasantry?

I can think of lots of reasons including the following:

  • you're overwhelmed
  • impatient
  • don't have time for what someone else wants to say, do, or advocate for
  • you weren't well schooled in good manners
  • you don't feel good
  • you feel unheard
  • you're oppressed
It's good to be cognizant of when "nasty" arises and then to think about where that began and how to mitigate it as much as possible.

The best cure for nasty is when someone is nasty to you--that reminds you of just how unpleasant nastiness is. 


The Value of Big Picture Share

We make a mistake when we don't share the big picture with those we serve and lead. When we ruminate on the day-to-day issues and expectations without reminding the team about the big picture, we lose capacity.

I always tell the story of my husband's former leader and now governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, who kept the team motivated with his weekly letters. Essentially he kept the big picture of what's important at the forefront of his leadership. This fostered a strong, invested work force.

As I worked on the "big picture" of the math program today, I realized a lot about important program elements--elements that I've mapped out so that I have the time to teach well. I thought about how I'll communicate those elements to the students, their families, and my colleagues so that the opportunity is there for good teaching and learning in the days to come.

I believe that all people profit from getting the long view as well as needed daily imperatives. When the big picture share is missing, we have less of a chance of reaching the potential possible.

Social Issues: Working with Families and Students

When I first started teaching and a parent would call about a child's social issue, I would become very nervous and worried as I felt the parent's call was a criticism of my work or ability to teach the class. Now as a seasoned professional and a parent myself, I know that a teacher cannot be aware of all issues at all times in the classroom and when parents and teachers work together to notice, discuss, and solve social issues, we do better.

As I think about this in reference to a number of social issues that have occurred in the classroom lately, I'm thinking of the following positive strategies in this regard:

  • Social issues are a natural part of any human organization, and when we deal with these social issues with understanding, compassion, and good solutions we help all involved to better their social skills and to improve the sense of team and camaraderie in the group.
  • It's important to deeply understand the social issue by questioning and listening. Good questions include:
    • What did you hear about this social situation?
    • When did or does it happen?
    • What bothers your child/children the most about this?
  • After listening to the situation, then you may need to do a bit more investigation to figure out exactly what's going on. Then you need to speak to the people involved about what's happening and what needs to change to create a peaceful, positive situation rather than a bothersome or harmful situation. 
  • In some cases, the children involved may need deeper coaching with the help of the school guidance counselor and/or others.
Solving social conflicts in ways that build positive capacity for relationship building, teamwork, and collaboration is an important part of the elementary school teaching job. The better we learn to coach this positive conflict resolution and getting along, the better our students will do now and into the future, and the stronger our school team will be. 

Of course, when these issues arise, it's best to deal with the issues sooner than later, and it's best to enlist parental support as they know their children well. 

Continued Focus on Math Practice

I shared my Twitter conversation with the class yesterday. It was a conversation about what makes math practice engaging. They heard the words and set off to practice well with one another. As they practiced, I noticed a few holes in their knowledge with regard to the division unit. Today I'll work with the whole class to fill those holes with better understanding using words, models, and equations/expressions.

Here's a few images that show ways that students chose to practice:

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Revisiting the Math Practice Goal

My goal this year was to stay more faithful to student feedback related to home study. While the goal was well founded based on the fact that students who completed home study with regularity last year did better on systemwide/state assessments than students who did not stay faithful to this study, I have found that my goals were too strenuous and not meaningful enough to keep up with.

In general, to spend countless hours after school reviewing student work, adding comments, and noting who did the work and who did not is not worth the time it takes. Why?

First of all, it simply takes more time and energy than I have after school. The school day is extremely busy and the after hours reflection and prep time consuming and meaningful.

Next, the efforts are not rewarded with meaningful, positive response. In general students who don't complete home study are students who need greater person-to-person support, not more notes on papers or emails home to family members about missing home study assignments. Generally students who don't complete home study, most often have families that can't support that home study. Therefore rather than berating families/students about missing assignments, I'm adding more extra help time before and during the school day to provide the support these students need--this results in greater growth and more meaningful support.

Further I can use a large number of online systems/assessments to help me check students' homework completion and progress. These systems/assessments are targeted, efficient, and useful when it comes to getting a quick look at who is doing their work, who is not, and how they are progressing. I can match these online assessments to what I notice in school and then make good choices about providing students who struggle with more targeted and helpful support.

So what does this mean for my practice goal?

First, the goal was rightly directed in that all children need to practice to learn well.

Next, the goal was ill directed in thinking that I had endless hours and energy to look over countless practice exercises each week. I simply don't have that time or energy, and even if I did, the results of my at-home review is not nearly as powerful as the personal support I can provide students before school and during lunch.

And, I will still review significant assignments and make time for students to look over my review and reflect on what was accomplished. These efforts will be placed in student portfolios and shared with family members. In general these will be assignments that are richer, more meaningful, and completed both in school and out of school. Examples include our recent volume project and upcoming fractions story project. I'll also audit students' countless online practice efforts and give them an overall progress comment for their online practice efforts. The comments will likely range from rarely completes online practice to regularly and successfully completes online practice. And as we've done in the past, I'll print a student stat sheet for each child that demonstrates the results of many online assessments that we give. Most of that information has been shared with students upon completion, but the stat sheet helps to give a good overview of student efforts and progress.

For the 2019-2010 I'll likely stick to the practice goal, but update it with what I've learned this year.

How do you best foster student practice so that they learn well? What do you find to be most helpful in this regard? How do you use your time effectively so that student practice and your support is both meaningful and results-oriented? I continue to think about this.

Note: I placed this post online and received some amazing comments via Twitter:

Schedule Audit

One reason that yesterday wasn't the best teaching/learning day is that it clearly was time for a schedule audit. What does that mean? A schedule audit means taking a close look at the schedule to see what's working and what's not working.

Essentially my schedule has some really good parts--parts that support student learning well. The job now is to stay faithful to what's working and to work a little more to bring parts of the schedule that are weaker up to speed.

As I audited the schedule this morning here's what I found:

Extra Help Sessions
These are very valuable times in the day because students eagerly attend, are open to learning, and I can offer the help they desire.

Educator Support
We have a good schedule for educator support. It took some time at the start of the year to establish this schedule. The challenge is to stay faithful to that schedule and to use the support for maximum positive effect. Specifically that means timely support, giving people who support the students a heads up about what we're doing, and acknowledging the good support that many teachers, assistants, and therapists bring.

Collegial Meetings
We have good time for collegial meetings. The key is to use those meetings in effective ways. One way to be better prepared for these meetings it to give the agenda a bit of thought prior to the meetings and to be prepared for the agenda items you're adding to the mix.

Reflection, Prep, and Response
I find that the best response with regard to students is that personal coaching and response you give each day. I'd rather make more time for extra help sessions that allow me to give personal response than lots of time for at-home correcting. That distant correcting doesn't have the same impact. Daily reflection truly empowers the teaching/learning program as does timely prep.

Time for Personal/Family Health and Care
When we don't make time for this, we are not as effective as we can be in the classroom. It's critical to make time for personal/family health and care.

Right Dress, Good Nutrition
Wearing clothes that let you move freely around the school and playground helps you to fulfill your job expectations and desires more. Similarly good nutrition helps too. This requires time as well.

Reasonable schedules spell success in the classroom. Staying faithful and being prepared for the good schedule set is also integral. As we roll into the second half of the school year, time that we've organized well, it's time to use the good schedule to our advantage to help every child succeed.

Stay Clear of Unnecessary, Cumbersome Problems

Yesterday was wrought with small, bothersome issues in the school house--why?

I have to continually remind myself that it's critical not to entertain small matters during the busy school day--it's best to stay focused on the students and the learning during the day, and put those small bothersome issues on hold until you can give them needed time and thought.

Yesterday I let a number of those issues seep into the day, and that created havoc.

Good planning, good communication, and focus on the essential elements of the day helps you to stay clear of issues that get in the way and confuse the goals. Those issues can wait until there's time for better and more focused attention before or after school. Don't forget.

The Practice Test

Our system has many required math tests. One way that I prepare students for these tests is to give them a practice test. Yesterday as students practiced they weren't as enthusiastic as I like--they were lackluster. As I noted before, I'll think about how to engage them in practice a bit more. Today, I'm worried that they might bring that same passivity to the practice test--how can I change that?

First, I'll remind students about how well they've done all year. As a grade level they've made terrific progress to date. I'll also tell them that it's worth giving the practice test good effort, and rather than letting them choose their partners, I'll assign similar ability partners today. When students work with similar ability partners, one doesn't take over and instead both partners tend to work with good questioning and good pacing.

As students take the online practice test, I'll answer questions and help where needed. I'll assess how the assigned pairs and small groups are working, and think about who is engaged in this effort and who still needs a different approach.

A big part of teaching well is leading learning experiences which engage students--when they are engaged the learning is awesome. That's something I'll be thinking about today as students complete the practice tests.

Monday, January 28, 2019

When Teaching is Just For Show; It's a Waste of Time

I imagine that in every organization there are sometimes efforts that are simply for show. These efforts have little to do with the good work or development of an organization, but are more directed to checking the box and impressing those that matter.

As you can imagine I am not very interested in teaching for show--I like to teach for the good learning of my students. I particularly don't like to be part of the show when the those viewing the show have little knowledge, interest, or investment in what's really happening in schools. When this happens I feel a lot more like an animal in a zoo than a professional teacher.

As much as possible efforts in schools need to be well thought out, time well used, and the rationale well examined. In general it's a waste of money and time when things are done just for show. Instead of elevating our teaching/learning communities, just for show serves to demean and diminish the essence of why we teach and the potential that teaching holds.

That Messy Place in the Learning

We're at that messy place in the math unit--the place that's not all neat and tidy, but messy because everyone has mastered a different part of the unit, and there are lots of questions. As students practice the finer parts of the unit, they hit snags along the way, and for some, they are ready to move on to new study--they've had enough of this unit.

We'll stay the course however for the next 2-3 days until everyone takes the assessment. Then all will move forward to the fraction unit, but we'll make time to revisit concepts not mastered and that still need practice in division both during the fraction unit and during RTI blocks.

Perhaps a more engaging review would have captured their attention more. That's something I'll think about. Until then, however, we'll follow the path set, practice a lot, take the assessment, and then move forward to a more engaging and creative fraction investigation. Onward.

What will the week bring - the last week in January 2019?

Soon I'll begin another week of the school year--what's the focus this week?

Division Practice, Review, and Assessment
We'll conclude the division unit with lots of practice, review, and an assessment this week. That's the mainstay of the week's math learning and teaching. I'll also prep for the start of next week's fraction unit exploration start.

Systemwide Assessment Catch-Up
Since some students were ill, we have to catch them up on systemwide assessments. I'll do that this week too.

Science Study
We'll likely begin our next rotations this Friday and continue to teach science. We'll spend some whole days working on science at the end of March and into April to catch up on all the teaching we have to and want to do in this area. Students look forward to science study.

Math Review
Our Friday PLC will be dedicated to a math review. I suspect we'll take a look at the division unit assessment scores as well as scores from other recent assessments to determine what we need to do to help every child achieve with regard to math study.

Progress Reports
We'll complete our progress reports this week and next for parent review. We don't give grades, but instead note students' progress in a long list of standards. We also provide an overview comment for families--the comments generally report students' strengths and a need or two.

We'll look at ways that we can better build teamwork during upcoming projects mainly in the science realm. We want to look for ways to embed formal and informal social-emotional learning into these teamwork endeavors.

Math Extra Help Sessions
Monday and Wednesday at 8am are extra help sessions for anyone interested. Thursday, Friday at 8am and Thursday at lunch are more targeted extra help sessions for specific students. This is one way to target support for students who may need more or different support in math.

It's one of the more routine weeks ahead, and a good week to keep the momentum of good teaching, learning, and collegiality going.

Teaching/Learning Support: Policing or Supporting

In schools today we often see a divide between those who police teachers and those that coach teachers. People who police teachers are always reminding them of the expectations, deadlines, and have-to's--like a policeman who directs traffic, those who police teachers are focused on making sure that teachers do what they're told. As you might imagine, there is little camaraderie with these kind of teacher leaders. People tend to avoid them rather than work with them.

Then there are those who well support teachers. These teacher leaders are always working with teachers to put teacher/students' needs and interests at the front of their work. These teacher leaders help teachers by thinking ahead to help educators attend worthy professional learning events, order helpful materials, get a break to do more planning, and work together to continually evolve the program in ways that matter.

I have found that leaders that police are often educators who spend little time with students--these policing leaders have often lost sight of what it means to teach day-to-day and what children are like. Without regular responsibility for student learning and engagement, it's easy for teacher leaders to take a robot-like attitude and affect on educators--they see teachers as do-its, not the dedicated, invested professionals that they are.

Alternately, I've noticed that leaders who continue to work with students on a regular basis, have a greater understanding of what it takes to do the job well. These leaders' regular day-to-day work with students makes them empathetic and knowing of educators' challenges, potential, and needs. These teacher leaders appear to be better able to support educators in meaningful and helpful ways.

As we look carefully at school structure, we have to think deeply about the kinds of roles that make up that structure. In my opinion, we want to minimize policing and elevate support. Of course some oversight is needed for schools, but in general, if most educators in a building are working with students and coaching one another, I believe we will have stronger, more supportive student-friendly learning/teaching communities. Do you agree?

The Advantage of Flexible Scheduling

You might describe our fifth grade schedule as loose-tight scheduling. It's tight in that we have a typical pattern allowing us to fit in all the expected learning, but it's loose because we deviate from that schedule when we need something different, better, or more to meet students' needs.

For example, last Friday the entire fifth grade suspended the schedule as usual so we could maximize the help of the eighth graders who were visiting our school as part of a service project. Rather than following the typical routine, we all engaged in a science exploration that was engaging, meaningful, and standards-based, an exploration that profited from the extra hands available via the eighth graders help.

We also deviate from the schedule as usual for field studies, STEAM days, some needed assessments, and portfolio work. Generally if the study demands extra time and depth, we'll make space for it. Other times that we deviate from the routine included times when the children are particularly out of sorts or when there's a lot of illness in the school. Essentially this loose-tight schedule helps us to put the students' needs first as we aim to meet expectations and foster a student-friendly learning environment.

Our shared teaching model where each teacher on the team takes the lead in particular subject areas,  projects, and topics is an ideal way to foster loose-tight student-friendly scheduling. Fortunately we have substantial meeting time throughout the week including shared planning time once a day and a once-a-week PLC and student service meeting with the broader grade-level team including teaching assistants, special educators, therapists, the counselor, and at times, administrators.

This scheduling and shared teaching promotes greater teamwork by educators and the students. This is also a very positive aspect of the program we are promoting. When scheduling is made to meet the standards and or educators' needs alone, that is not advantageous, but when schedules are loose-tight with a focus on what students' need, then we have a positive, productive schedule for optimal learning.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Don't Make Fun of People's Looks

Remember when your mom told you not to make fun of or mention people's looks. That was one lesson most of us learned when we were young. That's why it disturbs me when I read comments on the Internet that make fun of people's looks--it's simply rude and not nice.

Whether I agree with an individual or not, I don't go to that low place of making fun of what they look like. While I'm not a fan of President Trump or his cronies, I don't like it when people make fun of his hair or body. I also don't like it when they make fun of his associates either. That takes us away from what is really important which is identifying the people, policies, and decisions that work best for our country. Onward.

Understand Regrets

We all have regrets in life, and it's critical to take time to reflect upon those regrets from time to time. When you understand your regrets well, you gain good energy for living well.

What are my regrets?

One of my regrets is that I didn't feel more positive about myself as a young girl. Perhaps all young people are wary about who they are and where they fit into society, but I was especially self conscious and disappointed with who I was as a young girl. When I think about this, I can see lots of reasons why this occurred. One reason was that I worked and lived with a number of men who ridiculed me and women in general continuously--that ridicule seeped into me and made me feel less worthwhile. Next, I loved learning and creating and that was not valued in my world as much as my looks--the people in my close and extended world seem to be more concerned with what women looked like than who they were. It was the age of Twiggy and I was the antithesis of Twiggy--I didn't feel like I was a valued person in society. Further I had a great deal of responsibility. I worked a lot. I babysat a lot. I volunteered a lot. I was very, very busy with little time to reflect or think about who I was, what I wanted, and where I was going. I was directed more than nurtured--there is a big difference between direction and nurturing. Nurturing is the concerted cultivation that Gladwell speaks so well about in his book, Outliers. Direction treats you more like a robot or a puppet than a person. Now everyone can look back at their childhood and see areas of regret as well as areas of great joy. I had a childhood full of loving people, exciting events, positive activity, and good care, but I think I would have grown with greater self esteem if people around me valued me more as an individual than as a someone who was supposed to fulfill very narrow expectations. That's why I feel strongly about helping my children to become the people they are--people who have good relationships, follow their dreams/passion, invest in good development, have fun, and contribute to the world around them.

Another regret I have is that I didn't take advantage of the supports available. There were so many supports available to me in the culture, supports that I didn't take enough advantage of. I think I would have taken greater advantage of those supports if I was more clear about who I was and where I was headed. One good example of this is the time a great college professor who liked my ideas invited me to spend some time with him to discuss my studies. I was too shy to follow up on that, but if I had, I would have had a great chance to learn more about the areas of study I loved and was invested in. Similarly an artist once invited me to spend time with him and his friends--that would have been a great chance to join a group of people who shared my interests and skills. Further my college, graduate school, and jobs have all had tremendous supports for greater learning and development. It took me until my later life and my many terrific connections on Twitter and other social media threads to finally begin to maximize those supports for better teaching, parenting, and living. It's important that we direct our children and students towards an open attitude with regard to accessing the great supports that exist, supports that can truly uplift their lives.

One more regret I have is that too often I haven't thought deeply about some of my relationships. Like an annoying fly in your midst, I've sometimes let annoying aspects of relationships persist without the deep think and conversation needed to remedy and make better. It's good not to put off annoyances that weaken relationships, and deal with those annoyances instead in ways that are kind, empathetic, and forward moving. Fortunately in my later life, I've been mentored by people who are good at talking about the difficult issues that can happen in relationships--these people have taught me to better deal with relationship snags and annoyances.

In the end what these regrets show is that we all have to take more time to reflect deeply about our lives, who we are, and what we can do to live the best possible lives. Too often we just go along with same routines and responses which positively serve to strengthen the positive areas of our lives, but may negatively affect the areas of regret and need in our lives. We want to live lives with few regrets, and to think about regrets now and then will help you to do that .

Lessons That Keep on Giving: Spread the Good News

There are life lessons that you learn that you fall back on continuously. Some of those most meaningful lessons in my life include the following:

  • Mom's words: Enjoy the stage you're in because you won't be there again. I love the way Mom's words make me think about what's most important about the stage I'm in and how I can use those reflections to maximize my experience of life. 
  • Dad's words: A little for today and a little for tomorrow. Dad has always fostered efforts to do good work today and to plan for tomorrow too. I like this parallel perspective when it comes to living life well.
  • When you're tired or angry at loved ones, take a vacation from them. This was a lesson learned after some struggle, and times when good friendships and relationships were fractured. Rather than fracture those relationships, to simply take a break gives good perspective and often saves a good relationship.
  • MLK Lesson: Don't stay silent about things that matter. I hold that lesson dear. If I believe my words can make a positive difference, I speak up. I don't stay silent in the face of oppression. 
  • Live as if it is your last day. This is age-old advice that is very valuable--we never know where our lives will take us and it's best to live each day as well as you can.
  • Let those you love know you love them. Don't wait to tell or show those you love that you love them--keep the love alive.
  • Don't put off to tomorrow what you can do today. This advice has really helped me to maximize what I can do when I can do it. For example I completed a task that is due in the spring a few weeks ago because I felt like it. I'm so glad that task is done and I did it when I had great energy for it. As much as possible it's good to match good energy and timing with tasks that need to get done now and into the future.
  • Be careful about the company you keep and the actions you invest in: When you allow yourself to spend lots of time with negative people or actions, it brings you down. Our current political situation demonstrates that clearly. If you surround yourself with good people and good action, you'll develop in ways that matter too. 
  • Spread the good news. Years ago when I worked in an architectural firm who hired a consultant to elevate the firm's camaraderie and effect. The consultant's advice was that when you see something good, tell two people. In other words, spread the good news. I try to do that.
Just this week, a student teacher who worked with me a few years back sent me a nice note to let me know that a little poster I made for her has continued to be good advice and that she has the poster hanging in her classroom. That simple email note meant so much to me--it really invigorated me. It's amazing to experience what a few good words can do for your day. That's why spreading the good news is so important, but this only works when the words are truly positive and authentic. False good words have the opposite effect.

As I move into the new week, I'm going to think about how I can work with all the good advice above at my back. I'll do that in the following ways:
  • I'll let students know just how much I appreciate their perseverance and will to work together and learn a lot. They're making great progress and I am so inspired and delighted by their efforts.
  • I'll share students' good work via progress report comments and checkmarks too as I complete progress reports which are due on February 7th.
  • I'll do some deep think about the intersection of SEL and science as I prep for deeper and better science teaching in the days ahead.
  • I'll xerox lots of papers to prepare for the upcoming fraction unit. 
  • I'll write my weekly family note to my closest family members--a note that reminds them about how grateful I am for them.
  • I'll focus on the positive potential out there, positive potential at home, in school, and in our greater communities. On social media threads I'll focus on elevating the good rather than focusing on the negative--what good is out there: good leaders, good ideas, good acts.
  • I'll reserve judgement and put some space between me and any negativity that occurs, giving me time to think about why that happened and respond positively. 
It's important that we focus on the lifelong lessons that help us to be the best we can be and live the best possible lives. Onward.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Prepping for the Fraction Unit

This is an example from the project introduction
Students have moved from learning about the base-ten numeral system to use of the math operations with whole numbers and decimals and now to fractions. I've been thinking about how to best introduce this unit and create engagement and good learning too.

A couple of weeks ago prior to a systemwide assessment I reviewed all the fraction operations with students during a sketch notes lesson. I told stories and we all drew and labeled related models.

So as I thought about this introduction and the successful Boaler-like floor-to-ceiling volume exploration students engaged in just before the December break, I decided to start the unit with a floor-to-ceiling fraction story project.

I will review what whole numbers, decimals, and fractions are, and then I'll model a fraction story that includes all four operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I'll ask students how I could have made my story better, better in terms of the math and better in terms of the story illustrations and flow.

Then I'll let students work on their own or with others using computers, paper, objects such as legos, string, and recyclables, and/or drawing to craft their story.

Why do I think this will be a successful introduction to the unit?

First, this exploration will give me a good look at children's knowledge and problem solving abilities.

Next, it will introduce students to Google draw and images which are great vehicles for math model making.

After that it will force students to think about how the four fraction operations are similar and different--it will involve them in making models that demonstrate the meaning behind those operations as they connect to fractions.

And, this project will review standard measurements that children need to know, measurements such as gallons, meters, dozens, yards, and more.

I have a very creative, imaginative, and collaborative group of fifth grade students. I can't wait to see what they come up with. I'm sure I'll track this project on my blog in the days to come. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Friday Musings: January 25, 2019

It was an amazingly busy day beginning with some good reflection, then science set-up, teaching, talking with former students who were visiting to kindly help us teach, and more. All in all a great day thanks to lots of grade-level, school-level, and inter school level collaboration.

I think we were still feeling the enthusiasm we got when we went to a team building event at Gillette Stadium yesterday--the day was so positive and uplifting.

Now it's time to focus on the week ahead then onto weekend plans.

The week ahead will find children reviewing and practicing multiple division concepts then taking a division unit test. We'll also have time for some science lessons, reading, and likely start our next class film, Our Friend Martin during our 20-minute block on Wednesday.

Progress reports go out in two weeks so that will be the focus of next weekend's work. In the meantime, I'll organize paperwork for students' reports and upcoming portfolio updates and parent/student conferences.

I also plan to work on the advocacy projects planning for upcoming environmental science study. Another big week ahead and a good weekend to come. Onward.

Reflection Ahead: Questions to Ponder

There are many questions at the back of my mind when it comes to improving our teaching/learning program. These are questions that I will ponder soon.

How can we foster greater teamwork and SEL during science study?
The team atmosphere of science study is a great opportunity to teach more SEL in ways that matter. Yesterday at Gillette we saw a good example of how to foster greater teamwork. We have many resources and supports available to us with regard to this study. The next step is to make the time to reflect, discuss, and try out new ways to build our efforts in this regard.

How can I turn math units into greater floor-to-ceiling math units of study?
I've got great resources to help me with this. I belong to Boaler's YouCubed Facebook page which gives me a ready group of eager and invested math educators to confer with. I was successful, in part, with a volume unit that included a floor-to-ceiling exploration. The next step is to create a measurement and geometry unit that does the same. I need time to pull together all my resources to make this happen.

How can we better our All Stop and Read Time?
I want to revisit this wonderful part of our day and think about ways to better what we do. I have some ideas and my colleagues have used some great strategies too. I just need to make time to reflect more on how and when we'll make this happen.

How can I develop greater collegiality and teamwork?
Our school schedule gives us great time to collaborate and work as a professional team. Now the goal is to do this better so that we best affect a wonderful, child-centered, results-oriented teaching/learning program. We're not short on ideas, expertise and this is positive. The challenge now is to use processes, demeanor, and strategy well to make the most of what we all bring to the table to better what we can do. This is a positive place to be and a positive challenge.

Am I prepared to be a better recess coach?
After identifying what this means, now I have to ready my clothes and lesson prep to avail this better coaching during our great recesses on a wonderful school playground.

How can we deepen our buddy reading time?
I'd like to turn this time into a time for genre study too so that I can review specific genre with students and then they can relay that information to their kindergarten buddies with genre-related book marks and reading books of that genre. For example if we study the genre of fairy tales, students can read a fairy tale to their kindergarten buddy and then together they can color a fairy tale book mark that reviews the elements of that genre in a kindergarten-friendly way. This will build skill and knowledge for both kindergartners and fifth graders.

I'm sure there are other questions to consider, but these are a few that are on my mind right now. I welcome your thoughts should you have suggestions related to this.

Reviewing Science Study Efforts and Expectations

Fifth graders in Massachusetts take a test in the spring that covers all state science standards from grades K to 5, that's a lot of standards. It's a challenge to prepare students for these tests, math and ELA tests, and to teach in deep, enriching, and meaningful ways. How do we fit all this teaching in?

We try to maximize every opportunity we have to synthesize good energy, supports, materials, and teaching. For example today we have the support of many eighth graders who are coming to our school as part of a service day. These eighth graders are our former students so it is celebratory to host them. It is also a great source of extra support so we wanted to choose a topic that's engaging, educational, and requires extra hands. Hence we decided to review fourth grade science standards related to energy with a catapult making project. Students enjoy making the simple popsicle stick catapults as they learn about kinetic and potential energy.

To remind all of us of the facts and information related to energy we'll watch an entertaining Bill Nye video about energy. Then we'll engage in a few simple activities to review the main concepts and after that we'll make the catapults, then play with them.

Other ways we fit all this science in include the following:
  • Science Rotations: Each teacher at the grade level specializes in one main topic of teaching and teaches that curriculum to all fifth graders. For example I teach the fifth grade physical science standards while my colleagues teach the life science and Earth science standards.
  • STEAM Days: We have a number of STEAM team days when the whole class engages in a hands-on STEAM project and exploration related to the K-5 science standards.
  • Field Studies: We have a number of science-related field studies including trips to the McAuliffe Challenger Center, Boston Museum of Science, and Gillette Stadium.
  • Expert Visitors: We invite local scientists to come in and teach. Recently a science educator from the local Discovery Museum came to teach students about the states of matter.
  • Grants with Local Science-Related Organizations: We work with the local Audubon association, Drumlin Farm, to teach the standards with an environmental lens and activities including outdoor explorations, in-class environmental education, and climate change-advocacy team projects. Last year we worked closely with the National Wild and Scenic River System and Audubon to teach students about their local river habitat via field studies and other educational events. Students earned their Junior Wild and Scenic River System Ranger badges. 
  • Review Slideshows: Just before the big test, students create standards-based slide shows that review the central questions and information included in the K-5 science standards.
  • Reading/Writing: Students study the ELA standards by reading and writing about science topics.
  • Local Grants: Over the years we have written a number of grants to our local WPSF to obtain materials and experiences to help us teach science more and better.
  • Stewardship Projects: Last year we worked with a local environmentalists and former systemwide teacher to clean up a three-mile area of the local landscape including the riverbank.
  • School Garden, Recycling, and Composting: Thanks to the tremendous efforts of a teacher in our school and our PTO, students engage in some school garden, recycling, and composting activities.
  • Assessments: Students take assessments in the fifth grade science standards so they and we can assess what they know and work on areas where their knowledge needs greater support. 
  • Science websites, videos, and books: We have lots of websites, videos, and books available for students to read, watch, and study on their own at home or in school to deepen their knowledge when desired. 
As I write this laundry list, I realize that we engage in a lot of science study, and now the work is to think about which elements of this study are most worthwhile, engaging, and positive with regard to our goals, expectations, and students' questions/interests. I'm sure our team will reflect on this when we meet to review our program elements. In the meantime, we'll likely write a grant or two to support this work more in the days ahead. If you have suggestions for us, please share. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Today: What's Important

Paperwork, supplies.

Safety, expectations, answering questions.

Coaching, guiding, responding, encouraging, learning with students.

More Prep for Tomorrow's Lessons
Lots of material prep, newsletter, and next week's paperwork/lessons.

No Parent Wants to See Their Child Do the Wrong Thing

It's extremely humbling to be a parent. None of us want to see our children err, and we also don't want to see our children hurt. That's why we spend so much time working to well educate and support our children so they learn well and live well.

As a child in a big family, I watched my parents as children in our family and neighborhood made mistakes. I saw their worry and their efforts to turn problems into opportunities for betterment. During these ordeals, I learned a valuable lesson which was never to say never which means that when other people's children err, reserve judgement or criticism because it could be your child doing the wrong thing next time.

Every kid makes mistakes and acts with error, hurt, and disrespect from time to time. Some children do this more than others for all kinds of reasons. It's very challenging when your children do the wrong things, and our job as parents is to try to prevent this kind of behavior as much as possible--we don't want our children to make hurtful mistakes, disrespect others, or do the wrong thing.

We also have to support one another as parents and teachers in times good and bad. I have found that when you take the small infractions seriously, you're more likely to avoid the great and lasting problems later on. Small problems are warning signs and opportunity for positive change and teaching. For example, teasing by young children is an opportunity to teach them about positive, respectful language. That happened yesterday in the school house. Some children were teasing others with hurtful words. One brave boy spoke up about it, and I was able to say to all of them that we don't accept or use that kind of hurtful talk, it's never acceptable at our school. Similarly prejudicial talk is met with teaching right away--in our school everyone has a right to be who they are, and no one has to endure prejudicial comments and talk. The same is true in my home.

Anticipating problems can help us to support our children's good choices and good behavior. For example, parents of teens and college students know the problems that drugs and alcohol can create--we have read the stories in the paper about teens and young adults who have met grave circumstances and even death due to substance abuse. As much as possible we have to work with our neighbors, friends, and local organizations to work against this dangerous behavior. Also we know that to be busy and active with positive people and events helps children to live good lives, that's why positive investments of time and support for sports teams, cultural activities, religious groups, the arts, and service work can help your child to be a more positive and healthy person. Warm welcoming positive homes, good education, exposure to diverse situations/experiences, and lots of talk and conversation helps too. In our home as children we often discussed the stories in the news which gave us a chance to talk about potential risks, problems, and behaviors that create challenge, struggle, and worse.

No family, school, or other group is without their challenges, errors, or problems. No parent wants their child to do the wrong thing. That's why it's important to do what we can to educate our children well and give them the tools they need to navigate life in positive, enriching ways for themselves and others. We need one another's support, wisdom, and leadership to do this work well. And when our children do err, we need to be there to support them and help them learn from their errors.

As a mom and teacher, I'll be thinking about this in the days ahead. I'll be thinking about how I can best support my children and students to build their awareness, knowledge, will, and investment in doing what is right and good for themselves and the greater community. Onward.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Teacher: Recess Coach

Among our many varied duties is that of recess coach. Yes, most elementary school teachers have about an hour or two of outdoor play duty each day. You can look at that part of the job in many ways. Over the years I've interpreted this job in multiple manners.

A Bothersome Add-On
Often I've seen this job as a bothersome add-on since my real desire lies in using those minutes between classes or after lunch to clean up and reflect on the learning that just happened and get ready for the new learning, but when you have recess duty, you have to go right outside with the children and right back inside with little time for prep, hence the view of "bothersome add-on."

Necessary Evil
Young children have to be supervised so it's a necessary evil to do recess duty. Why evil? It's "evil" because it's a lot of work in a small space of time, a space of time when you would like to be prepping for the learning or attending to personal matters, yet's it's necessary.

Opportunity to Coach, Guide, and Build Relationships
At it's best perspective, recess is an opportunity to coach, guide, and build relationships with students. After many years of teaching, I realize that when you use recess well it benefits everyone. Teachers benefit for many reasons. First we get a chance to observe our students in a most natural setting and activity which is play. Next we get to help them resolve and discuss conflicts. Third it gives us time to build relationships with children by talking to them, noticing their interests, and joining in if we want, and finally, it's an opportunity to get outside, move around, and have some fun.

To view recess with this perspective and activity does help to make all that goes on in the classroom more successful and beneficial because the conflict resolution, conversations, and relationship building all contribute to a strong learning/teaching community.

Preparedness Matters
To make the most of recess means that you and the students are well prepared for the learning. If children learn good routines for getting out to recess and coming back in, there will be time for needed set up and clean up on either end of the recess schedule. Further if you prepare well for your lessons you'll have a better chance to easily move from one activity to another. Having recess with other teachers means you can spell each other to get a personal break if you need one.

Preparedness means having the right clothes for the weather and recess field conditions. In winter the salt on the blacktop eats up your shoes. The mud on the fields similarly wrecks footwear too. Dusty conditions further make your clothes dirty. Sunlight means sunglasses, hats, and other protective wear. Basically to be a good recess coach means you need to have play clothes on hand that match the conditions outside only then are you able to move all over the fields without worry to monitor, coach, and guide the children.

Rules and Expectations
We have a large number of rules and expectations for the playground. Some are easier to follow and enforce than others. The most important including no body contact, polite language, everyone is included, and if you can't solve a problem on your own, get a teacher's help are critical and typically enforced day in and day out. The more difficult rules to enforce include wearing snow gear when the field is covered with snow, following the many rules for specific games (often students come to school with many variations of rules), and unwinding complicated conflicts that take more time than is available, conflicts that spill over into the learning time.

As we consider what it takes to foster strong schools, recess is an important consideration. Honestly I wish I made this reflection and wrote this post years ago as it would have moved me in a more positive and productive direction with regard to recess. It's never to late to learn, so I'll get my recess gear in better order and look for ways to enhance the transitions to and from recess too. This will help to master this time of day--most students most beloved time at school.

Math: Next Steps - January 2019

Students have been introduced to and practiced the traditional division algorithm. Next we'll work as a class to think about the many ways we can work on and think about division problems. On Friday through Tuesday/Wednesday students will work with friends to review division in many ways and complete their practice packets by the day of the test. Then on Tuesday/Wednesday students will take an online practice test, and on Wednesday/Thursday of next week students will take the unit test. The challenge as the teacher is to foster a good review that invites voice and inspires deeper learning--I'll take that step by step. I'll also enlist parents' support by asking students to bring packets back and forth from school to home next week as they work to complete the practice.

Following the division unit, students will study fractions. I'll begin that study with a review of what we've learned about so far this year including the following:

  • base ten numeral system
  • order of operations, multiplication, addition, division and subtraction of whole numbers and decimals including the many properties related to this. 
  • introductions to volume, metric measurement, coordinate grids, and volume (we'll go deeper with those topics later)
I'll bridge past learning with fraction learning by talking about how fractions are similar and different from whole numbers and decimals. Then we'll discuss why it's important to understand fractions and when we use fractions in our world. Later we'll move through fraction study including vocabulary, the many ways fractions "behave" and lots of varied practice including problem solving.

There's a lot to learn, discuss, explore, and practice in the fifth grade math curriculum. The learning helps students learn to think, problem solve, and use numbers, shapes, and measurement in multiple ways. I believe the study is worthwhile and the more I can foster study that is engaging and empowering, the better it will be. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

It Takes Courage and Conviction to Destroy Prejudice

It takes courage to destroy prejudice in your life. It also takes a conscientious day after day effort and self coaching to rid your thoughts and mind of long held prejudices, prejudices that were given to you as part of your cultural, geographical, religious, racial, or gender upbringing.

I remember that as a young student I always thought that boys were less intelligent than girls. This was a prejudice founded on the fact that the boys in my schools were in trouble more often than the girls, and that there were far less boys in the honors classes than girls. I just thought boys were simply not as bright as girls. Then when I went to college, I realized that there were smart boys in the world. Now we all know that I held a terrible prejudice until I saw evidence that the prejudice was wrong, misguided, and ignorant. Now as a teacher and mom of three sons, I am a champion of both boys and girls knowing that all of us are capable of learning well.

I remember another time as an elementary school student expressing a prejudice about people less fortunate than me. My grandmother righted me immediately and taught me a valuable lesson about class that I've never forgotten. She took away that prejudice immediately with her strong stories, experience, and evidence.

Further as a very young child I had great prejudice against those who didn't speak English. Mistakenly I thought that smart meant you could speak English and not smart meant you couldn't speak English. Again that was prejudice born out of ignorance and lack of experience as a young child. With education, I saw how wrong I was.

There were other more harmful prejudices I was brought up with, cultural prejudices that were born from what the TV news chose to show, words elders spoke, religious teachings, and a lack of experience with multiple cultures. Thankfully my schooling worked against those prejudices and through multiple courses, experiences, and reading, I've been able to rid myself of many prejudices. That doesn't mean that prejudices don't rise up in me because they do, and that's when I self-coach myself with the knowledge I've learned to rid myself of those prejudices.

When I heard about Pence's wife taking a job in a school that is outwardly prejudiced against LBGT families and individuals, I was frightened and angry. How can the Vice President's wife rightfully work for such a discriminatory school, a school that objects to the rights and freedoms of people to live as they choose as long as they don't break laws and hurt others? Why didn't she choose to work in a public school that forwards positive educational advantage and opportunity to all children, not just those of a select faith or discriminatory doctrine? In time, I'm sure she'll learn as life has a way of teaching us to be less prejudiced by making us face our greatest prejudices in our everyday lives. Typically people's children, loved ones, or most cherished places and events ultimately create opportunities for us to learn by making us face our greatest prejudices in intimate, life changing ways.

When prejudice of any kind rises in me, I think of Prince Ea's amazing video (see below) and I also look into the heart and eyes of the person, event, or practice that makes the prejudice arise. When looking into the eyes of another, you see their humanity and their right to live well in our world. When looking into the hearts of events, places, and practices, you see the truth and goodness which dispels the prejudice you may have been brought up with or that remains--prejudice that signals your ignorance and lack of experience.

My children and the younger people I work with have helped me to overcome prejudice in many ways since they see the world with new eyes and often broader experiences than me. It takes courage and conviction to destroy prejudice in ourselves and others, and it is right and good to work towards this end in our lives and the lives of our communities.

Seeking Betterment Doesn't Mean You're Better

I am in the search for betterment because everywhere I look I see opportunity to do more and better. This pursuit doesn't mean I'm better, and perhaps means I have more room to better myself and improve than others thus the vision at hand. Whatever the truth of that matter is, I know and I've seen the great result of the search for betterment. In my life, I've seen what medical innovation, good education, right policies, and community action have done for people's lives, I've seen betterment in action and I like what I see.

There is limitless opportunity for betterment in the world, and this opportunity presents itself big and small. In communities we know that if we better people's opportunity for quality health care, education, environmental protections, nutritious food, and beautiful, natural and human-made communities, we'll elevate individuals' lives. This elevation will result in greater peace, happiness, and good living.

There is limitless opportunity at the state and national levels to improve our use of renewable energy, protect our environment, support quality education and health care, build better more streamlined and modern infrastructure and transportation, and work for world harmony in modern, peaceful ways. We can use our intelligence, good process, and individual strengths to work together to make better. The challenge lies in forging new paths and processes to make this happen as well as to diminish old fears and myths that relate to beliefs that only some can live well while others have to suffer. We can work for everyone's benefit, and when more succeed there is greater success all around.

The challenge in the pursuit of betterment is that we can't do it all or be it all. We have to put some ideas on hold while we forward other ideas. We have to choose our alliances carefully when it comes to this betterment work and watch out for fools and manipulators who use fear and lies to confuse us, bring us down, and belittle the great potential that exists.

To work for betterment doesn't mean that you're better than others. Instead it means that you're well aware of your frailties as well as the potential that exists to better your own life and the lives of others. Betterment is an awesome perennial pursuit and challenge--one that so many of us are invested in. Onward.

Updating the Teaching/Learning Routine

Reflection about the teaching/learning routine has me making a few updates to better what I can do.

What does the weekly routine look like?

Five 60-Minute Math Periods
There are five 60-minute core math periods a week. One of those periods is focused on an online math-tech menu that lasts for about 45-minutes at one sitting and another 15 minutes at another sitting. Next year we've advocated for a change to create five full 60-minute periods. Those core math times are filled with a variety of teaching activities including whole class lessons, online review, project work, online/offline practice and more.

Two Math RTI Sessions Each Week
These periods are often interrupted due to a large number of factors. This interrupts the needed consistency and depth of this work. We have advocated for better times for this teaching/learning next year so that consistency is increased. In many ways RTI offers learners a chance to get more tailored support for the math learning they need and desire which is positive when done well.

Two Sixty Minute Science Periods 
In general I have two sixty minute science periods a week on Friday. Those periods are sandwiched between a set-up and clean-up time which is positive. As I think ahead with regard to science learning, I want to start the teaching earlier in the year so there are more periods overall and I want to continue to sandwich the times between time for set-up and clean-up since the science teaching/learning takes up quite a bit of space. The apt scheduling of these periods is something that colleagues and I will focus on in coming months as we meet teaching/learning expectations for this year and plan for next year.

Reading Four Mornings a Week
Students start the day four mornings a week reading. This has been very positive. Teachers read too which offers a positive example of reading to students. We want to continue this good practice and deepen it too.

Extra Help for All
There are two morning extra help sessions a week open to all students. This is a popular choice for many and a good time to work with teachers and other students on homework, projects, and more.

Targeted Extra Help
A couple of mornings a week there is targeted extra help for a few students who demonstrated a need for this.

Math Lunch
Soon I will begin a math lunch meeting for a few students who are unable to make the morning extra help sessions. This will be positive.

Class Meetings, Movies, Read Aloud, SEL, and Organization
When needed or desired we make time for important class movies, meetings, SEL, read aloud, and organization. These efforts are integrated into academic times as well as during other times during the week when needed. These periods help to develop greater class community, care, and positivity.

Creating a positive weekly schedule ensures that you meet the expectations for learning and teaching set. This is important.

Love Well

As I thought of the passing of so many loved ones in the past year, I thought about the need to love well. This means thinking about those people in your life that mean the most to you and making sure that you support those people in ways that matter. What questions lead this effort?

When can we get together?
We can't let too much time distance us from those we love. We have to find ways to talk to each other and see each other regularly. It's important to stay in touch.

What do you need?
We have to reach out to our loved ones with the question, "What do you need?" It's essential to be there for one another as much as possible in this regard. I remember years ago when my husband and I made a decision to support a loved one in a time of need. It was a right choice, one I've always been grateful that we made.

What do we enjoy together?
Our relationships grow when we work with common purpose and pleasure--finding the goals, events, places, and activities we enjoy together bring us together. Recently my sister planned an outing that brings many family members together with a shared event that most family members love to do--this nurtures a positive aspect of our shared family culture--an aspect of our culture that we've enjoyed for decades.

Be Present
Often it's not the big events that support loving well, but instead being present. Just knowing that a friend or family member is available is sometimes all the love you need at busy, challenging times of life.

Our lives are lived well when we love well. To make loving well your objective is to right your life ship in a positive direction. I'll be thinking about this today when I join a loving family who sadly will say good bye to one of their family members, a family member that they loved so well and a family member that they will miss so much.

Changing Culture Spells Positive Challenge and Gratitude

Not long ago I found myself reverting back to the behaviors and words of a poor culture. For years I worked with some who forwarded a less than positive work culture--rather than a culture based on mutual care and benefit, it was a culture of trickery and confusion.

Fortunately that culture has changed considerably creating a much more honest, transparent, and focused culture. I am so thankful for this, and find that I have to update my actions, words, and expectations accordingly. For example, recently I acted as I often had to act during the old culture--actions that included stronger words, less trust, and reliance on favors rather than a shared focus on what is right and good. My actions were questioned which woke me up once again to the positive changes at hand, changes that are not content with work motivated by singular ambition rather than a positive, collective mission.

I am delighted to experience this change and the positive challenges it brings, challenges that include more transparency, greater collaboration, deeper professional learning, and an evolution to more student-friendly modern teaching and learning.

What is my role in this positive culture change?

First, I need to be mindful of positively evolving my language and work. We don't have to be sarcastic, caustic, snarky, or tough. Instead we can be loving, kind, truthful, and curious. Questions are welcome and new ideas considered.

Next, my focus needs to be a focus on how I can do my work best on my own and with others. There is a deepening collaborative aspect to this new culture, an aspect that includes more and better teacher voice, choice, and leadership. There's definitely room for greater change, but this is a good start.

And I have to commit to continual learning especially learning within my spheres of impact which are mostly SEL, math education, and science education--areas I will invest in to better the work I can do with and for the children, families, and colleagues in my teaching/learning community.

I am not coming home with anger or tears on a daily basis anymore. I am not concerned about gossip, secrets, and what appeared to be unjust acts of cronyism and distrust of the past. I am positively motivated to do my part, speak up with respect, and act for betterment. I need to update my language and collaboration too so that I meet this good culture with positivity and investment.

Are things perfect? Of course not--there's always room for betterment. Are things better? Yes, much better and I am so grateful for this.

Supports in Place

As I assessed a large number of life events this morning, I recognized that good times were mostly supported by wonderful organizations and people, the positivity we experience is not happenstance, but instead the result of dedicated service and care amongst people.

As a child I was surrounded by multiple good agencies including my church, school, family, YMCA, and neighborhood--each of those groups of people supported me well by providing me with a home, good education, caring neighbors, and multiple organized events that brought people together to foster the best of who we could be in wonderful places mostly near my home.

What mattered most with regard to this positivity was not glamorous, but instead consistent and caring. Family looked out for each other helping one another when we could. There were many events of shared celebration and support, events that included good food, camaraderie, stories, and fun and games. At school, parents, teachers, and children gathered time and again to learn and enjoy special events. The YMCA offered wonderful after school and weekend classes and family events. Our church was a cornerstone of our neighborhood offering weekly services and many social events that brought people together, and our neighborhood in general was filled with adults who took an interest in everyone by sharing their gifts and talents including teaching piano and gymnastics and welcoming children for hours of play. As I've written about before, the strength of our neighborhood finds people still connecting and supporting one another decades later.

Life today for most people has stretched out from the small neighborhood we grew up in. Instead most people I know have families that live in multiple communities, states, and even countries. As the world becomes more interdependent, people travel more and live further from one another. This presents a bit different kind of support network--one that takes a new lens as to how we'll stay close and supportive of one another.

Of course communication has never been easier or better. Smart phones and computers can bring us into each other's homes in an instant. Transportation is quite good too making it possible to travel long distances to see a loved one without too much trouble. Sometimes this distance may prevent some of the at-home, neighborhood strength since people are sometimes not as committed to what's close by since they are on the move so much, but in general, I believe that most people invest in their communities as well in the distances needed to stay close to loved ones.

As I think of all of this, what seems to stand out the most is our need to be present and available to support one another in ways that matter. The ways people do this will vary greatly including their good work, volunteering, and sharing of gifts and talents. As an educator this is a regular part of my life since every day is filled with connection, caring, and support for me and from me. As a parent of young children this was also a constant since I was consistently involved in my children's interests and activities. I know that as time moves forward, I'll likely invest more in the greater community in ways that continue this two-way support network--supports for me and from me.

Good living depends on contribution and care for and from self to and from others. We have to continually audit our lives to notice what we do that matters and what we do that doesn't matter or worse that may be negative to our lives and others.

What supports do you have in place? What supports do you provide? How can we use this support-lens to assess and better the places where we live, work, and recreate? There's lots to think about in our ever changing world.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Prepare for the Unexpected

I like to have empty drawers because it helps me to prepare for unexpected items or need for space. Similarly I like to have empty slots on my calendar for the same reason. I like to be ready for the unexpected.

This week two unexpected and troubling events occurred--in both cases I feel fortunate to have the time and capacity to deal with the situations. That's not always true. There have been times when unexpected events have occurred and I have to rely on others to take up the slack and be there for me. At those times, I didn't have the time, energy, or ability to help out because others needed me more.

At best, especially as educators, we have to prepare for the unexpected. I learned this with particular strength when I was balancing teaching with parenting babies and young children--their needs were often unexpected and I had to sometimes call in for a family sick day with advanced notice. During those years I learned to stay about a week ahead with plans so that I was ready. With older children, that's not as much of an issue, but with aging family members, that issue rises again.

What does it mean to be prepared for the unexpected? It means having, if possible, a bit of extra cash on hand in case you need it. It also means having a week's worth of school plans ready too--those plans can cover those stand-alone units that can be taught at any time of the year. It also means keeping your schoolroom up-to-date and easy to work in. That's not always easy when you are dealing with lots of materials and teaching tasks, but it's important.

Staying ahead and being prepared for the unexpected is not always possible, but when possible it certainly brings a sense of relief and preparedness so you can attend to the situations that arise with your best energy, care, and contribution. Onward.

When People Appear to Do Wrong

Social media networks lit up as videos were shared of young men seemingly jeering at an elder Native American man in Washington, D.C.. In the videos, the young men appeared to be disrespectful. Fast and furious comments spread throughout Twitter and other media.

I believe that a culture tired of President Trump's continuous shaming, blaming, name calling, lies, and exaggeration are on edge, and rather than reacting with questioning in the situation, people mostly shared angry comments condemning the boys' behavior--they didn't like what appeared to be disrespect, and they shared that sentiment.

I shared my dismay at what I saw too. As an educator, I would not let my students react that way to an elder or any group that is peacefully protesting. I would ask children to respect the protesters, listen to their words if they wish, and if they disagreed or were bothered by the situation, I would support their respectful words of disagreement or help them to quietly leave the area of discomfort.

Later in the news, one of the young men involved wrote a letter to the public providing his view of the situation. When I read his letter, I was dismayed by the threats his family and he has faced. As a society, we need to react with questioning and respectful disagreement rather than vengeance, threats, and accusations. We have to respect our laws that hold that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. While President Trump often acts with disrespect and accusation, we can't let him lead our country and people in a similar way--we have to promote civil debate and discourse.

I still find it difficult to accept the behavior I saw on the videos, and as an educator I want to make sure that I anticipate what my students may face when I take them on trips and teach them about the respectful behavior that is expected in those situations. For example, we take our students to the city where they will encounter many situations many don't see everyday. We'll discuss those situations prior to our visit. Our students will also visit the theater and see scenes that may be new to them, we'll discuss how they can respectfully respond to those scenes too. Our anticipation and preparation doesn't mean that we won't face problems and we won't need to redirect students who may make a bad choice with the words or gestures they use, but we'll do what we can to make sure we have enough chaperones and oversight to support the best possible behavior and field trip experience overall.

Once when my own children were young, I brought them to a place that was new to them. I hadn't anticipated their words and reactions to the new place. There was a point when I had to pull them aside to educate them about what they were experiencing and how they should react more respectfully. On another occasion I brought my children to a Native American celebration. One of my children was struck by the fact that he was one of the only non Native American there--it was a very good teaching situation. So I know that events such as what happened in DC can happen to our children in new situations. That doesn't make it right, but acknowledges that it can happen, and in the best of circumstances when situations like this occur it's best to meet those situations with greater education that will hopefully lead to greater respect and understanding.  Onward.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

MLK Weekend: A Weekend of Reflection

Educators who work in classrooms with lots of children have little time for energized reflection. That's why this three-day weekend in the middle of winter is such a welcome time to simply think about what's important and what needs to be done. We all need this good time to reflect on our values, efforts, and time. As I reflect this weekend, a number of ideas and actions come to mind.

Extra Help Sessions
I find that extra help sessions during the week are rewarding because students are enthusiastic, they make progress, and I am able to help. As it stands now I offer two extra help sessions to any interested students two mornings a week. I'm adding two more mornings targeted at a few specific students for whom I want to target instruction more. I am also going to open up a lunch time for a few more students, students who are unable to access the morning help sessions. These extra help studies result in greater confidence, engagement, and success with study--it's worth the time.

Positive, healthy energy
Good teaching requires good energy, and good energy requires a healthy lifestyle. No teacher can be all or do all, and we have to make schedules that allow us to get plenty of rest, exercise, good nutrition, and time for relaxation and reflection in order to teach well. Every teacher has to make difficult choices about where and with whom they'll invest their time and energy--this is essential to good teaching and learning.

Lifelong Learning and Advocacy
To teach well requires that we consistently evolve our programs in ways that matter. This continual evolution requires a steady diet of professional learning. To gain positive professional learning, you first have to identify the areas where you need and want the most support. For me that relates to four areas of teaching and learning including math education, science education, social-emotional learning, and teacher leadership/communication. In each of those areas, I have essential questions that I am focused on including the following:

  • How do I foster math learning that is engaging, empowering, and successful? Learning that includes a variety of strategies and learning experiences from floor-to-ceiling explorations to online practice to individual support and whole class teaching.
  • How do I streamline science learning so that accessing materials, background information, and clean-up are a natural part of the routine leaving greater time and energy for the rich collaborative investigation, experiments, and exploration?
  • How do I create a teaching/learning environment that empowers students in ways that they can access the materials and learning venues they need and desire with confidence, enthusiasm, and strength? How do I create a supportive environment where students support one another with compassion, empathy, care, a sense of humor, and meaningful support? 
  • How do I hone my teacher leadership and communication skills so that I am supportive to my own goals as well as the goals of my colleagues and the school in general? How do I rightly and sensitively use my ability to advocate in my school system and elsewhere to best support optimal teaching and learning for all children?
How do you find adequate, positive time for reflection, the kind of time that empowers your ability to teach and learn well? When you reflect, what comes to the forefront of your thoughts--what takes priority and why? How do you act on your reflections, how do you translate your good thoughts and intentions into successful action? 

To reflect is essential when it comes to good living and good teaching, and the MLK weekend provides many of us with good time to do this. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Move Towards Your Future

It's been a day of think as I read the news, review emails, and think about the future.

The news introduces us to a true leader in Nathan Philips, a Vietnam War veteran and member of the Omaha Nation. In the face of ridicule, discrimination, and disrespect by many young men from a Catholic High School who were ironically in Washington, D.C. for the March for Life, he stood up to speak for justice for all people. This was perfect timing before Donald Trump gets on the airways to spout more slick marketing manipulation as he continues he persistent mockery and contempt for our government, laws, freedom, and great diverse nation.

The news also shows us many, many women marching for what is right and just--good laws, freedom, and support for all people. They know that our President is self serving and not at all concerned with the livelihoods of everyday people. To him what matters is fattening his own pocketbook, popularity, and power--nothing else.

It's easy to get mired in the muck in these Donald Trump years--years marked by outdated back-vision and regressive policies, years of macho-politics by a seemingly lawless, narcissistic personality and his passive loyal cronies. He's the president that breaks all the playground rules, tantrums, shames, blames, lies, and exaggerates continuously. Yes, it's a real downer for the majority of Americans and as for those who still follow him--I can't imagine why. I think their either the elite that are benefitting financially from his choices or the impoverished who don't know better.

Whatever the case, I can't let his lack of values, discrimination, and poor leadership get in the way of what I believe is right and good. For me, I want to follow a positive path of service to others including my students, colleagues, friends, and family first. Those are my priorities and there's lots that I can do to better my efforts in their regard. I also want to work to support strong communities, leaders, laws, and policies, and I'll be thinking about how to do that better in the days ahead.

To begin, however, the focus needs to be on the following:

  • good, positive, healthy living and energy'
  • a warm, simple, and welcoming home
  • a students-first engaging, empowering, enriching educational environment
  • positive service and collaboration with students, their families, and colleagues
  • advocacy and support for positive life-affirming policies, laws, and leadership including environmental protections, quality education and health care, health communities, non violence efforts, world peace initiatives, and a positive national culture. 
Time to get continue. . . .

Good Work and Living: Don't Waste Time or Money

More than anything I hate to waste time or money as I see both as the currency of potential. Using time and money well means meeting the potential results of more positive and promising lives.

This is one reason why President Trump's revolving door of leadership, persistent put-downs, and slick marketing manipulation angers me so--all of these tactics are clearly a waste of time, time that could be spent with intelligent analysis, good collaboration, and worthwhile purpose.

I take time and money seriously. As a busy mom for the past 27 years, I know how precious time is, and as someone who has worked for almost fifty years, I know how precious hard-earned money is. I'm also someone who likes to maximize time and money for life events and pursuits that are meaningful to me. I like to use my time well at work in an effort to reach worthy individual and collective goals. I also like to use my money well to optimize meaningful goals. I hate to waste either time or money.

What can we do to maximize time and money?

First know your goals and values well. Know what means the most to you, and then pursue your truth and values by using time and money well.

When wise use of time and money relates to family life, it means saving up for what matters most--time and money for family togetherness, time and money for individual family member's health, education, and welfare, and time and money for long term goals and dreams.

At work, it means carefully spending time and money for the general welfare for each and every student, a great education for each and every student, and positive efforts for the teaching/learning community today and into the future.

In government, this means carefully prioritizing what's most important with formal and informal facts and figures. Instead of wasting money on self-serving policies and priorities, good government uses money and time with great care so that dollars spent and time used is well directed to the most important priorities and concerns that contribute to a strong, positive government for all citizens.

Obviously it's impossible to never waste time or money. We waste both money and time by lack of knowledge, lack of planning, lack of reflection, lack of good process with regard to goals and priorities, lack of accurate information, and poor decision making. It's impossible to be so perfect that you never waste time or money, but if you're truly invested in doing the best you can, you will be mindful of not wasting time or money in the spheres where you live and work.