Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Developing the Science Lab: Explorations That Matter

Educators and leaders at the elementary level are devoting substantial time and effort into developing the elementary science program. This investment has been going on for years with good result overall. What has happened?

  • Embedding FOSS Science Program as the main elementary program
  • Enriching FOSS with a variety of outside resources including Mystery Science, related books and videos, and child-friendly materials
  • Forwarding a minimum of three STEAM activities at each grade level
  • Yearly attention to creativity and invention in a number of ways including The Global Cardboard Challenge
  • Field studies, grants, and expert visitors
  • Environmental education events 
This has been a lot of work, work that has included the following challenges:
  • acquisition of good learning furniture including tables and storage units.
  • acquisition of countless materials
  • refiguring classroom spaces to make space for science exploration
  • refiguring schedules to make room for science learning
  • time for professional learning and preparation
  • the need to elevate students' ability to work as teams and be positive team members
New state-wide science standards and an international drive for greater science learning is forwarding this effort. What motivates the good teaching and learning most in this area, in my opinion, is students' enthusiasm for the subject. 

I spent a few hours this morning updating my efforts as I plan for next week's exploration of Mixtures and Solutions. Since the depth we are reaching for in science education is relatively new, there is the need to remind students about positive routines and teamwork strategies. It's also important to remind students of what we've learned so far and what we will learn now and into the future--that keeps the learning move along in a positive direction. Further our team uses websites to give students and families a 24-7 access to all that we do in school so that they can review, repeat, or enrich the learning after hours if desired. 

There's more to do to make these units even better including the following:
  • continue to work on apt scheduling to fit this learning in more and better
  • make time for science reading in the schedule
  • continue to integrate other subjects into the science study because that's how we'll find better and more meaningful time for the subject. 

Seeing beyond the daily drama to achieve what's possible

There will always be daily drama. This is especially true during the Trump years, years where the President baits us with shaming, blaming, exaggerating, and lies daily. It's easy to lose focus on the details of your daily work when the President of the United States threatens all kinds of troubling events, decisions, and threats.

There is also the daily drama at home and in the work place. Rarely is there a day without events to attend to--events that challenge your own family members and students, minor events, but events that demand attention nevertheless.

So how do you see and work beyond the daily drama distant and close to work towards the goals you have for your own work, family, and classroom?

As I write about often, but continue to find very challenging, it's all about how we manage and use our energy and time well. Where we focus the energy, time, and capacity to achieve what we can see out there in the distance matters.

We can't do it all. We are not superhuman. However, we can carve out time to do what we know matters most with regard to making positive change, developing strong programs, and serving students, families, and our colleagues well. Onward.

School Days Ahead: The Long Month of March

The March to April leg of the school year is a long teaching/learning period with no holidays or vacations. It's a good month to dig in and achieve a lot. After coming into the February vacation truly tired, I want to use my time well during this busy stretch so that I have the best possible energy throughout that period.

What matters?

The tension that portfolios create is because there is no official time in the curriculum program for portfolios, yet our research and experience demonstrates the strength of creating these reflection books--books that help children know themselves as learners and books that help students set goals. These portfolios serve as a vital ingredient for student-led parent conferences too and meet the latest research related to what it means to be a successful, confident, and directed learner. Portfolios are a keeper, and we simply have to push other learning aside to make room or this valuable part of the teaching/learning program.

Floor-to-Ceiling Learning
Like portfolios, there is little support for these rich, deep, research-supported learning events in the curriculum, yet we know how learning like this develops solid, positive learning. So like portfolios, we have to make time to include projects like these and respond to those projects accordingly via teacher review and student reflection and share.

Student-Led Family Conferences
We've dedicated a week to these conferences which amounts to about eleven extra hours of intense listening and sharing for each educator as family members and teachers meet to listen to children lead a conference about their learning progress, interest, reflections, and goals. These are valuable meetings, but a considerable add-on to the schedule which continues to include full days of teaching prep and experiences.

Student-Friendly Teaching/Learning Environment
A place for everything and everything in its place continues to be a goal for the classroom so that students may use the classroom environment as a rich source of ideas, tools, materials, and resources for individual and collaborative learning.

Time to Read
Our grade level efforts to increase the time for deep reading and reading enjoyment has translated to greater reading success. Of course we want to continue to forward this effort.

Science Teamwork
There's lots of science learning going on for our grade-level, and we have to stay committed to the time and effort this learning takes. The greatest challenge with the science teaching is the time it takes to prepare each lesson since the lessons are material intensive.

Math Learning
There's lots to achieve in math as well and staying the learning course here will help us to achieve those goals.

This is a busy focus for fifth grade with seven MCAS tests in ELA, math, and science.

Spring Projects
Once MCAS tests are past we move into a project-based learning end of the year including finalizing our climate change service learning projects, the fifth grade play, biography project, and global cardboard challenge.

As I consider what's to come, I realize that I have to stick to the priorities and not spend lots of time trying to fit too much into the schedule, more than is doable. Each element listed above is integral to students' academic success and happiness. These elements have been well chosen and add to the strength of the fifth grade team approach.

Beware of Exhaustion

Educators can suffer from exhaustion.

A friend told me the story of a colleague who had to leave school due to a panic attack. I know a lot about that school, a school from a different system than my own. The school and system are mismanaged, underfunded, and experiencing extreme teaching/learning challenges. I bet that young teacher who suffered the panic attack was exhausted trying to meet the superhuman expectations of the job.

Similarly another friend from another system was telling me about the after hours expectations parents had for her work. Again, these expectations are a reason for exhaustion.

Exhaustion creates a roadblock to the good work possible in schools, and as much as we can, we have to find ways to combat that exhaustion with reasonable expectations, schedules, and routines.

Now that I'm on school vacation, I can calmly look back on the past months of school and assess the points of exhaustion versus the points of reasonable personal and community expectations. We have to work against exhaustion as that may lead to errors and poor use of time and energy. Onward.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Teachers: Be Wise Consumers

There probably are few teachers like me, teachers who have not always been wise consumers, teachers who have been trusting that agencies and operations would look out for their benefit and do what is right and good by them. The truth is that all of those agencies and operations are made up of people and people make mistakes. Therefore teachers, like everyone else, have to be wise consumers.

I have a heightened interest in this today since I did my taxes yesterday and found out about an error in my paycheck today. Hopefully not like most teachers, I don't always check my paycheck to see if it's accurate and I'm receiving the pay due me. This is not smart.

Way back, early in my career, I decided to withdraw a certain amount of money for a 403B savings account. I never checked to see if was actually being withdrawn only to find out that the money was never withdrawn for those years. I lost out on a considerable amount of savings. Of course, if I had checked my paycheck I could have remedied the situation. It pays to check your paycheck each week.

It also pays to be thoughtful about how and where you spend your money, to keep track of what you buy and what you buy it for. To take time to create a budget and live by it, and to think of those big dollar items you are planning for such as your children's educations, home repairs, and perhaps a vacation now and then.

Unions are one place teachers can reach out to for help in this matter--unions have people who are skilled in these areas and people who will offer advice and support.

It's in educators best interests to be good consumers who understand the financial underpinnings of the work they do and salaries they earn. This is important to the good work we're able to do for ourselves and the families and students we serve. Onward.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Positive Change: Turning a Professional Corner

It's clear that my path is truly turning a corner. Though I can't describe the past ten years with as much clarity as I'd like, I'd say that much of my energy came from a place that was combatting discrimination, lack of ethics, and cheating. In my midst, there was unfair play that energized me to want different and better. I wasn't satisfied with what seemed like cronyism, favors, discrimination, and great attention to ambition over mission. I came home many days in tears and had countless sleepless nights due to this.

Was I imagining this tough battle to do what is right and good? I think not.

Were my persistent tears, worry, and frustration warranted? I think yes.

Because now at a new point in the path, I am much calmer, happier, and positively challenged. Instead of daily strife to do my work well, I have much more support and respect. Some people are actually listening and responding to me as a professional rather than judging me by my appearance/gender, friends, delivery, or vision. These listeners are responding with respect, good knowledge, support, positive challenge, and new ideas. This is much better than the past.

I am happy that during the past ten years I held my ethics high and did my best to follow what I believed in despite the struggle. I read the wise words of many during those years, words that kept me on a good path. I reached out beyond my close proximity to wonderful thinkers and doers all over the world, people who offered me advice, support, inspiration, and goals that were positive to my profession and daily work with children. This was good. At one point when I was truly ready to give up, a few came forward and urged me to continue writing and continue seeking betterment. I think of their personal encouragement almost every day. I am so grateful for their support. My close friends and family members had to listen to me lament and seek answers day in and day out. I am grateful for their unwavering patience and support too.

What lessons did I learn during these years?
  • Stay the positive path even when it is challenging. When cheats and crooks try to steer you off your path, find those that will support your good work and efforts. Don't be swayed by those who do not have your best interests or the best interests of the work you do in mind?
  • Don't be silenced. I remember when one person came to warn me about my words and questions. He essentially threatened me about my ideas trying to silence me. I remember telling that person that my words were not making me richer, more beautiful, or more popular and that my words were born of my desire for better efforts to help all children learn  in positive environments. Obviously that person offered me little to no support.
  • Seek help. Once when threatened and harmed by vicious accusations and words, I had to hire a lawyer. This was one of the greatest struggles of my work as a teacher. Thanks to support of good people and a good lawyer, I made my way through that terrible time. I'm glad people guided me towards a lawyer's help.
  • Get smart. Education is power and the more you know, the better you can do. Seek greater knowledge.
  • Unions matter. Get involved with your union. At one time my local union did not support me. I was very surprised by this and sought help from the state union instead. Then I got involved in my local union. I questioned some of the actions and efforts. Since that time our local union has become more active and vocal. More people are involved and more people are comfortable speaking up. Teachers are busy people with little personal power. Unions give us the collective power we need to be able to do our job with good working conditions, fair pay, respect, and the ability to speak up and act in ways that support students and their families well. 
  • Do the good work. Good work matters and we can always improve the way we do our work. Focusing on your main objectives as an educator lays a path to betterment. 
  • Cronyism is harmful. When people lead via cronyism, favoritism, friendship, and favors, organizations suffer. 
  • Transparency and regular, positive communication matter. Secrets, hearsay, and conjecture harm the potential organizations hold for doing good work. The more that everyone is in the loop of the important knowledge related to an organization's good work, the better.
  • Good process matters. When organizations develop and embrace positive process for decision making and growing the organization's capacity, better work and service occur. Bad process hinders good work. 
I am so happy to be at this new point in my professional life. A place where I have lots of positive challenge that will require me to reach for more, learn more, and do more better to meet these challenges. That is not to say that there aren't glimpses of past challenges still, but at this point of the road, the support is more positive, transparent, and good. I don't sense as much cronyism, favoritism, secrecy, and prejudice that I noted before, but instead I see a lot of positive potential for good growth and development. Onward. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Farewell Mr. Lee

Mr. Lee has been a colleague in my school system for about 30 years. I first came to know him by the stories people told about him and how kind, welcoming, and supportive he was towards their children. Children who had rough starts in school would land in Mr. Lee's class and he would transform their experience of school resulting in greater confidence and happiness. Stories like that drew my attention to Mr. Lee.

When our principal was leaving and we needed a new principal, Mr. Lee was encouraged to apply. He was chosen out of a pool of many candidates mostly because he had the experience and reputation of being an advocate of what is right and good for children. Our staff of veteran teachers as well as parents and administrators recognized the importance of that and selected Mr. Lee as principal of our school many years ago.

Mr. Lee brought many new ideas and positive practices to our school over the years. Those that are most pronounced in my mind include the following:
  • A service learning culture
  • Weekly School Assemblies
  • Kindness Matters school motto and focus
  • Respect and support for child-centered, playful teaching and learning
  • Respect for educators' personal lives and needs
  • Positivity with respect to educators' efforts to teach well
  • Care for each and every child--when you see the way children look at Mr. Lee, you melt. Children really love him.
  • A welcoming office with his own art work depicting storybook characters
  • Regular communication with staff via his Friday memo
  • Encouragement and support for educator's professional learning
Mr. Lee can be proud of his years as a principal. He fostered a warm and welcoming school climate that respected the personal needs and interests of students, parents, and teachers. We have all learned a lot from him and know that he will bring his talents and interests forward in ways that he'll be able to enjoy even more without the hurried pace a principal has each and every day.

The student newspaper wrote a good piece about Mr. Lee--one that I want to remember so I've linked it here. 

A New Principal

Our principal of many years is retiring, and next week we'll meet the two finalists who might fill his shoes. I'm thinking about this upcoming change.

Over my tenure I've worked for four principals. Each, like all of us, had their strengths and challenges. The principal job is a limitless proposition. In fact, I believe that the principal job should change somewhat as in many schools it is simply too big of a role without the time to do the tasks needed well. That being said, the role remains, and it's a very important role in any school.

As I think of the new principal, I realize that I'll greet this person in a much different way than I've greeted principals in the past. This time, I hope to be that teacher who does my best work by the children in my charge and helps out when needed rather than the teacher who is looking to change the whole school. In the past, I have centered largely on changing school structure, supports, and processes to better what schools can be. This has resulted in some successful change and some less successful efforts, but now with only a few years left as a teacher, I feel it's time for others to forward the future change while I work on the finesse and detail related to serving the students in my charge well. Of course I'll advocate when needed for what I believe in, but I won't play as large a role in that as in the past. I am also confident about so many new leaders in our union and system--leaders who demonstrate respect, intelligence, and awareness of what a good education looks like in modern times. This is positive.

Once again it appears that the process leading up to the finalists has been a fair and inclusive process. We'll see what the finalists have to say, who is selected, and what the transition process will be like?

Finesse, Refinement, Doing it Better

For years we've been building a program to meet the needs and interests of students in research-driven, worldly ways. We want a program that empowers students, engages students, and educates students well. There are a lot of drivers working together to make this happen, and there's a lot of positive work going going on thanks to the efforts of all learning community members including teachers, students, parents, administrators, and community members. This is all good news.

I'm one that loves the big ideas of positive program development and change. I enjoy synthesizing research, opportunity, and resources with others to create programming that makes a difference. In years past, there was a lot of strife in sharing new ideas, but as of late, in most corners of school life, there's less strife with that--people are listening more and responding to challenge, accept, and develop ideas respectfully. This is a positive turn in the road.

For me, the hard work now is in the details of program development. Most of the areas of big change and development are in place, and I'm putting a couple of areas where there continues to be resistance to respectfully listening to ideas or working to make better on hold for now because there are so many positive details to attend to, details including the following:

The Science Program
Through a bit of a arduous birthing process, our STEAM/science program now has a strong foundation of program information, materials, and structural support. I have everything I need to make this a dynamic program for students, and the efforts needed include lots of leg work to shore up the details to better and deepen the explorations, teamwork, discussions, and learning. Like most teachers in my system, I've put a lot of time into this program this year. Thanks to our new assistant superintendent, teachers have been able to use professional learning time in ways that they choose to work on and better their efforts in this area. This has been a welcome change from the top-down professional learning mandates from the past. 

The details I'm working on now are the following:
  • Continued efforts to organize the countless materials in ways that make those materials easy to access and use for all learners. This means bettering the closet arrangement/organization. We're on our way, but there's more work to do.
  • Making sure there is a good place and easy access to team role cards so we can access those cards for each exploration. The use of the role cards have made the explorations more successful.
  • Placing all of the main explorations and related material into a lab book to guide student efforts and make the progression of the learning easier to follow.
  • Continuing to advocate for a schedule that gives us good blocks of time for science teaching and learning. 
  • Continued professional learning so that I can teach the program well.
  • Continued efforts to update student/teacher websites so that they are good resources for all members of the learning community.
  • Continued efforts to better each exploration so that the explorations are student-friendly, rich, engaging, and educational.
  • Building in more explicit teaching and coaching related to the teamwork needed and desired for this program. 
The Math Program
The math program is a bit bigger than the days and hours to teach it. That's a challenge. Also to respond to the latest research about how to teach math well means shifting and sorting the traditional units to make space for more floor-to-ceiling explorations. I've finally had the chance to embed two of these explorations into the curriculum to the delight of the children. Now I'm working on synthesizing standards from two different math threads in order to make the learner rich, meaningful, and a better fit for the time we have. I don't want to rush the standards, but instead help students learn those standards in meaningful ways. 

Unlike the science program where my goals are well supported in the teaching/learning community. There is not as much support for growing and deepening the math teaching by looking at new and better ways to structure our teaching and student support. This is challenging, however, I have access to a number of outside-of-school supports including Jo Boaler's books, YouCubed website, and Facebook thread--these are all supportive professional learning resources. Similarly our local Math Teaching Association, ATMIM, is a source of support and the grade-level team I work with is supportive.

The details I need to work on with regard to this program include the following:
  • Student reflections and collection of signature learning for upcoming portfolios.
  • Student stat sheets that display students' scores on numerous assessments that will be included in the portfolios.
  • Introduction to new online intelligent assistants to help students hone their discreet math skills
  • Review of specific standards for Fraction Unit One
  • Completion of a Fraction/Polygon practice exercise that helps students practice their fractions while studying polygons too.
  • Completion of a Fraction/Measurement practice exercise that helps students practice their fractions while reviewing measurement properties too.
  • Creation of a Fraction II guide that teaches students the explicit standards-based information related to the Fraction II unit and the creation of a Fraction II online practice test and final test.
  • Detailed review and response to student signature learning for inclusion in their portfolios.
  • Organization and updating of the math websites
The work to date in math that has helped a lot includes the creation of standards-based teaching packets that guide the teaching of each unit and placing the unit practice tests and tests online to streamline the time it takes to correct and hand back tests. This has been a good time saver leaving more time to deepen math project work as well as the greater integration of math standards.

Community and Relationship Building
All in all a good schedule has helped with regard to positive community and relationship building. Our shared teaching model means that all three teachers know all fifth graders well. That also means that we can work together to help each other support every child. This is very positive. Additionally the schedule has good pockets of time for recess, conversation, and care. Extra help sessions in the morning offers welcoming arrival at school and personalized help. This has been beneficial to many who take advantage of the extra help. A later bus arrival at the end of the day for some students has given us extra time to talk and respond to their interests and needs. This has been positive too even though the later busses did take away some of our end of the day planning time. Our efforts to include noteworthy, team building videos, books, and movies into the curriculum has built team too and given us rich topics and events to discuss together which has helped us to know one another and support one another well. Increased recess coaching and noticing has helped us to support students' needs and interests with regard to friendships. Even the guidance counselor takes an indoor recess once a week that has helped her to foster better relationships amongst students too. Our team website offers a central online space that advertises our main theme "Everyone is Welcome Here" as well as other routine and timely information. Overall our focus on team throughout the day has been positive and has translated into an overall, positive teaching/learning community. One we'll continue to develop.

My advocacy at school will mostly be related to the continued development of more respectful and transparent exchange of ideas and efforts. There is nothing more demeaning than to hear about ideas and events that affect you via hallway gossip or at a parent event. When information is shared in timely, transparent ways, that builds a respectful, collaborative community. There's still room for more transparent, regular communication in many areas of school life.

I will also continue to advocate for a more flattened hierarchy where there are less leaders without daily responsibility for students and more people who serve students each day. While I believe there needs to be a few leaders who don't have specific student duties, I think that most educators should be working with students regularly. I have found over time that educators distanced from students become less relevant, respected, and helpful in a school community.

I will continue to advocate for greater teacher leadership, voice, and choice. Top-down directives mostly serve to stifle, frustrate, and demean teachers who work with students day after day. To dismiss an educator's hard work, professional learning, and willingness to grow is to oppress that educator. Too many distanced from students promote unrealistic, outdated, and stifling policies, mandates, and programs. Instead the best of what we can do rises when collaboration is fostered and educators work together to solve problems, build programs, and teach all children well--this is the kind of dynamic teaching/learning atmosphere I continue to advocate for. I am fortunate to experience this kind of teamwork with my grade-level colleagues and I'd like to promote more of it across our system. 

Professional Learning
In addition to the areas above, I plan to attend a few professional learning events this spring and increase my nightly reading to learn more in areas that will boost my own ability to be the good teammate I strive to be. As I read I'll think about the areas that are less satisfying, collaborative, and modern that I believe can change, and I'll consider better ways to advocate for change in those areas. 

For every teacher their list of where they are headed and what they can do will look different. This list is affected by where you are in your career, what your professional goals are, and who you are as an individual. It's important to consider your place and aspirations regularly as that sets the path for the good work ahead. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Next Steps: After Vacation

Today was mostly a good day as students engaged in lots of reading, science study, and math practice.

The science program is beginning to take on more shape now that there are guiding routines, student roles, better organization of materials, and better teamwork. This is all good.

After vacation, I'll organize materials a bit more and teach the next lesson in this rotation.

With regard to math, we are pausing a bit for reflection, portfolio work, and to learn about an intelligent assistant that can help everyone study their math with a bit more depth. Students' study packets will integrate simple fractions and polygons as one way to teach two standards areas together. The following week we'll get into some explicit fraction review and practice leading up the Fraction One Test. Then I'll integrate measurement with Fraction II goals, and after that we'll review order of operations with the Marcy Cook tile activities the math coach reviewed with us today. With my RTI group, I'll continue to review computation of whole number operations in a large number of ways.

It's been a while in coming to get to this place of community and organization, and it's a good place to end one leg of the year and start the other.

Priorities: What I want for students

As I prioritize yet again, I am thinking about what I want for students.

Read Great Books Everyday
There's no doubt about it, when students regularly read, they grow their intelligence, happiness, and success. We have engaged readers at school. Most of those readers have very busy outside-of-school lives so we have to make time everyday for students to read. We know this matters.

Study Math in a Myriad of Ways Everyday
We have to make time for deep, rich, engaging math study everyday.

Science Teamwork
We want to engage students regularly in engaging team-oriented science learning efforts.

Community and Relationship Building
We are there for students. We know that positive relationships and a positive teaching/learning community makes a positive difference for all. We are invested in this focus.

Engaging Learning Events and Celebrations
We know that the common experiences that are special and celebratory bring us together as a team and enrich the learning experiences for all.

Positive Routine and Norms
We know that when the routine and norms are well known and followed, we have more time for the richer, deeper learning.

These are the priorities. Onward.

Less Oppressive

In many ways, my teaching/learning environment is much less oppressive than in the past. For the most part, new leaders are including teacher voice in important decisions. There's lead time, care, and respect. This is positive.

It's amazing how energy grows exponentially when you are treated with respect and interest versus when you are treated as a mindless robot. We all have to remember this as we work with students because their energy soars when treated well too.

A Challenging Stretch

The past month has been a challenging teaching stretch. Why?

I have a super class that is well loved and cared for. I have the materials and spaces I need to teach well. I have the experience to teach the subjects too. So why the fuss?

In thinking about this, I believe the challenge has been the fact that I can see so much more than I can do. I can see what we can do for our students who have less academic support at home. I can see what we can do for our students distanced from successful social situations. I can see what we can do if we had more support for optimal teaching particularly for students who have particular needs. I can see what we can do if we had more voice, choice, and leadership too. This vision sometimes serves as an anchor that both roots me and weighs me down.

We simply can't do it all, and for educators, since there's limitless opportunity out there, we are continually prioritizing about who and what will get our time and energy and who and what won't get our time. This can be excruciating when you can see so much.

That's why I have to continually hone the rules of the road to make the job manageable, doable, and best possible. What rules will I make that help to make the job manageable and positive.
  1. As far as support educators and the need we have for them in inclusion classrooms. I'll keep track of who comes and who doesn't. Rather than fret the no-shows, I'll collect the data to see what kind of an issue this really is. It may feel worse than it actually is. I'll also try again next year to work with my colleagues to make best-possible schedules for student support and services. 
  2. As far as oppressive mandates that don't include teacher voice, choice, and leadership in meaningful, positive ways. I'll listen. I'll respond. Then I'll do what I'm supposed to do in a way that's best for students. 
  3. As far as needs I can't reach, I'll reach out to let the leadership know that those needs exist and suggest some ways we might fulfill those needs. For example I offer extra help sessions regularly, but there's a small group of students that can never make those sessions. These are eager students who want to learn. Perhaps we can create better supports for these students to meet their eager readiness to learn.
  4. As far as curriculum prep and planning, I'll continue to organize the materials in ways that are easy to put together and foster in the days ahead when teaching these relatively new curriculum areas. 
  5. As far as outside school-related commitments, I'll continue to direct those in the areas of my greatest responsibility: math and science education.
  6. As far as advocacy goes, I'll center my advocacy on ideas that support better teaching and learning for students--using our time and resources wisely to promote the best possible education for each child. 
No teacher is super teacher. We're all compromised by systematic structures, time, energy, financial supports, but with good focus, good routines, good advocacy, and a growth mindset we can continue down the road to betterment. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Portfolio Prep

If you can't do it all well, do less better.

As I thought of the point above, I thought about what really matters in the days following vacation.

The first priority is student portfolios. Good preparation of the portfolios helps students tell their learning story to family members and teachers during the upcoming student-led parent conferences. What needs to be added to these portfolios?

The math classes need to complete and add the following:
  • Math reflection
  • Fraction project
  • Volume project
  • Stats sheet
  • Images of math learning
The homeroom needs to add these items:
  • overall reflection
  • words that describe you word clouds
  • images of learning
  • examples of meaningful, significant learning
To prep for these conferences, students also have to review the presentation script and process so they are well prepared to lead their conference.

This is an important priority because good portfolio prep and a positive student-led conference lays the foundation for the learning to come. 

Chugging up the teaching hill

It's been a very busy stretch of teaching, and I bet I'm not the only teacher who is tired and ready for the week's vacation ahead. There is so much opportunity to nurture each child ahead with positive teaching and learning, but there are obstacles too--obstacles such as illness which leads to absenteeism, discouraging decisions mandates that highlight lack of voice/choice, and time and energy--there's never enough time to do all that you hope to do (a problem that belongs to all aspects of life, not just teaching).

Sometimes when you're weary and you've been pushing hard, you forget to notice the good that's happened--you don't stop to acknowledge the tremendous effort on math projects, teamwork during project work, the times students help one another, the great creativity on Valentine's Day boxes, thoughtful conversations as we read books on race and discuss people's rights to be who they are, and so much more.

Tomorrow marks our final day prior to the vacation. We'll meet to talk about math, work with small math RTI groups, spend time silent reading, science rotations, clean-up, read aloud, and buddy time. After vacation we'll update portfolios, continue our focus on fractions, physical science, and reading and begin some new projects too. Onward.

Let it go

There are areas where we have capacity and areas where we don't have capacity. At times those areas where we are essentially powerless gnaw at us. Of course, we could try to build capacity in those ares, but sometimes it's not worth the tremendous effort that is required to do that, and instead it's best to let it go, let it be, and focus our work and time on other matters.

This is particularly important at the end of our careers. There will be many decisions that will impact schools far beyond the years when you'll be there. Your voice dims a bit because of this reality--why should people listen to you at the end of your career as they'll be the ones to carry on. In most cases, your voice is most respected in areas where people are looking for help and support. For me, that's essentially the areas of school life that have the most to do with the day-to-day teaching of students--the good work that helps a child and makes their day positive.

So as I enter the last years of my teaching career, it's clear that there are areas that I'll have to let go--areas that are beyond me and areas where my voice is not welcome. It's important not to get too worried about this as it's a natural progression of events and an expected consequence of the end of your career. So rather than holding on, worrying, or reacting, it's essential that I coach myself to focus on what really matters--the day-to-day teaching/learning with respect to the students and my colleagues and forego those areas where I have little clout or voice anyways. Onward.

Done to, not with

One of the major ways to oppress people is to make decisions for them rather than with them. Worse is to make people believe that you are making decisions with them, when in truth you are making the decisions on your own. It's discouraging to hear about decisions made for you via channels of hearsay, gossip, and hallway chatter rather than inclusive, respectful decision making processes.

I imagine we all face this kind of treatment in aspects of our lives, and most of us know what it feels like to be managed rather than to be part of a team. To be managed leaves one with that feeling that they're a robot, peon, or do-it rather than a valuable part of the overall team. It's discouraging at best.

That's the way it is and we can stand up for our selves at times, but there are other times when it simply isn't worth it and we just accept the oppression and oppressors as an inevitable part of life on the planet. Onward.

Valentine's Day Musings

Imagine a whole day devoted to love--how nice is that.

For my whole life Valentine's Day has been a special day. My mom would always make a Valentine's Day cake which I thought was very special. We made Valentine's Day boxes, cards, and origami candy bowls. Joyful.

As I got older, Valentine's Day brings back memories of loves past and present--special cards and celebrations which bring a smile to my face, and now I have many to celebrate and celebrate with today and into the weekend. To be in an elementary school on Valentine's Day is to be surrounded by joyful smiles as students share their Valentine's Day mailbox creations and cards.

It's a good day to take a few steps back to enjoy the happiness. Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day 2019

Today will be a positive day with a Valentine's Day theme of being kind and caring to yourself and others. We'll begin the day by voting for Valentine's Day Mailbox winners in multiple categories from most creative to most humorous to most mechanical and scientific.  We'll help one another complete the fraction stories. Then there will be some time for recess. After that I'll read Lester's book, Let's Talk about Race, and then students' will create self-affirming wordles that describe who they are with lots of positive words--those wordles will become part of students' portfolios. There will also be time for reading and then some time to pass out Valentine's Day cards too. A happy day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Smooth Sailing

To teach any curriculum area with depth and meaning is a journey. Not unlike a good narrative, there's the introductions, the climb, the climax, the heart, and the bridge to connected learning. Today marked the start of a smooth sailing leg of multiple initiatives that the team has been working towards in the past month.

Fraction Projects
These projects challenged and engaged students. We're at the final stage and for the most part, the projects have been completed with care and understanding. Next steps will find us revisiting the concepts with greater explicit teaching, detail, and practice.

Teamwork and Science
We are truly working to foster greater skill and success with teamwork across the curriculum and with science specifically. Students will work in teams to study physical science, life science, and Earth science. They'll also team as they complete their climate change service learning projects, and the upcoming STEAM Projects. Finally they'll team at the end of the year as they construct their Global Cardboard Challenge projects.

To develop team, we're talking about it, using it as part of our rubrics, and providing examples via reading, video, and more. Students are definitely catching on to what's important in this regard and demonstrating better and better abilities to work successfully as teammates.

Science Study
As we continue to make the relatively new science standards and units a natural part of our teaching, we are making good progress. This is a valued area of the curriculum by all, and that value is motivating the effort it takes to succeed.

Students will engage in a lot of reflection as they update their showcase portfolios and prepare for student-led family conferences in the next couple of school weeks.

Friendship and Fair Play
This is a constant theme on the playground and in the classroom--a natural focus for fifth graders and one we are attentive to.

This is the short list for this smooth sailing segment of the school year. Onward.


In only a few days, it will be our week's vacation. I think everyone is ready for a break. One of the best reasons for the February break is to contain illness. During winter lots of illnesses strike students, and a break in February literally clears the air. Another great reason for vacation is the opportunity to rest your mind and do some prep for the weeks ahead.

In the next few days students will complete those fraction projects, begin prepping their portfolios, read, organize the classroom, and explore science topics. It's been a good week to get organized for the next leg of the year and thanks to a terrific teaching assistant, I've had some terrific help in that area.

Some specific tasks that we need to complete include:
  • Readying the science supply table for tomorrow's exploration.
  • Sharpening colored pencils.
  • Organizing paperwork and field trip information.
  • Conference paperwork
During vacation I'll prep upcoming science explorations, review students' math project work, create portfolio stats sheets, and ready for the April ATMIM Math Conference. 

Finding the right balance of work to do and time for other matters is always a quest, but with the progress reports behind us and report cards ahead, there seems to be a bit more time available to meet the goals we're reaching for. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

No Dull Days

Some days are better than others, but there's rarely to never a dull day at school. There's always something of note happening.

Today we all worked to finish the fraction stories. The project has a good momentum now and everyone is getting close to finishing their work. That's good. Playground politics are never dull as students navigate friendships, safe play, imagination games, and more. That's a whole curriculum in and of itself. And our work to foster lots of reading, climate change service learning projects, science study, and portfolio work keeps us busy too.

For me, it's a time for finesse during this busy, and sometimes feeling like you are pulled in countless directions time of the year. Finesse requires good energy, good focus, realistic goals, and positive teamwork. Onward.

What can we do about students who need more or different?

In every class, every year, there are students who need more or different. In a good program, most students are making progress, but in a great program, all students are making progress.

What makes the difference?

Fidelity to Service Schedules
It's essential to create positive service schedules and then stay faithful to those schedules. As I think about this, I'm wondering if some of the following structures will help us with this fidelity to service schedules more:
  • Days w/o extra services and then using those days for field studies so students don't miss needed services during field studies.
  • Not planning service delivery during typical parent meeting times because when there's a parent meeting, those services are delayed or cancelled.
  • Patterns of service delivery substitution for days when service delivery professionals are absent or not able to provide services.
Targeted Services
When service provided focus on their main objectives and then synthesize those objectives with students' holistic academic and social/emotional needs, the learning is better. As much as possible when we can target services for most successful, empowered learning--the better the learning will be. To target services requires that all service providers share objectives and plans in timely ways so that optimal targeting and tailoring of services can occur. 

Modification and Enrichment
One aspect of targeting service delivery is to modify or enrich learning materials and efforts as needed to make the learning more engaging and profitable for the student.

Goal Setting
Since we can't do it all, it's essential that service delivery requires good goal setting by the team--that way the whole team can work on what's most important for a child with the idea of continual positive progression with skills, concepts, and knowledge.

Extra Support
Making time for extra support can also help these students. 

We have to be mindful of the students who are not making as much progress as other students. We need to find ways to support those students more and better. Onward. 


I've been stretched lately due to a big project we're working on in math. The project is creating productive struggle and lots of questions. I simply am s t r e t c h e d trying to help everyone, look over the work, and keep the momentum going. That stretch is stressful leading to a bit of crankiness too. What's a teacher to do?

I could give up on the project, but I know that this project is good for students' learning--it's rich, deep, and thoughtful. The results of the project will be much better and greater openness to the explicit teaching/learning that will follow.

I could just take a deep breath and let it happen without worry or stress--this is a good idea as when students are engaged in productive struggle there's an element of patience needed for both teachers and students.

And I have added an extra help session to make space for more student help and support.

Big projects especially when done for a first time are not met with the same level of support that typical paper/pencil-worksheet-like learning. Big projects can leave some educators shaking their heads with questioning or disproval and can elicit less than helpful comments at times which makes the project work even more difficult, however, I am going to stay on this path until week's end when the projects are due. I've seen some good learning and terrific, positive struggle. My reading of what it takes to learn in brain-friendly ways supports this work. Of course it can be done with a bit more finesse, but that takes practice.

So the next steps find me supporting students' steady work with lots of one-to-one and small group help online and off in the next few days. I'll review the projects over vacation and make some decisions about the next floor-to-ceiling project we engage with. Onward.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Don't Expect a Home Run on the First Hit

New learning and projects are frustrating. There's no way you can anticipate all the obstacles you'll face as you try something new. Yet if we stay in our comfort zone we won't get better--we have to reach.

I'm cognizant of this as I venture in a number of areas including floor-to-ceiling math explorations/projects, team-focus for hands-on science, and relationship building by trying out new structures within the day.

Floor-to-Ceiling Math
The stretch here can translate into visible frustration as I recognize the many needed teaching points and coaching opportunities during the midst of the project. Why didn't I plan for that, I think as one new need after another emerges. With each project, I'll get better at managing and supporting students in positive ways, but it will take time.

Relationship Building
Sometimes students need more of you than what's available. That's why I add extra help sessions throughout the week. Yet sometimes adding too many extra help sessions means you don't have the down time you need to finalize a lesson, complete paperwork, or take a few minutes to reflect on the day at hand. How do we best meet the needs of our students who need more of us? What can we do a a whole school to better accommodate these students. In many cases these are students from loving homes, but homes that can't provide academic coaching and support for a large range of reasons. I know that students will learn more and better if we can fill in these gaps, yet a teacher can only stretch so far before they're at the breaking point. I'll keep thinking and trying out different ways to remedy this.

Teamwork and Science
A recent effort demonstrated that our students, in general, will profit from greater practice, explicit teaching, and coaching with regard to working as successful teams. Our relatively new science projects and explorations offer a perfect venue for this. This takes teamwork on behalf of the teachers too with regard to sharing ideas, building in good time, mapping out the projects, and preparing the learning environment, materials, and lessons to carry out this work. Again, we're steadily working at this, and it's a matter of time to get us where we hope to be.

All three of these initiatives are valuable. Research supports these efforts as does a simple read of the newspaper or look around. With an ever increasingly interdependent and technologically savvy society, it's a no brainer that people have to learn to be good team members and they need to learn and understand a lot about the broad world of science.

I have to remind myself that when you get up to bat for the first time, it's unlikely that you'll hit a home run. Like batting, good teaching requires lots of good practice and study. These efforts are good goals, goals that demand time and team to achieve. Onward.

Challenges with Floor-to-Ceiling Math Projects

I'll use this mini poster above to support student work on the project today. 
As I endeavor to include more floor-to-ceiling math projects, I've encountered both low and high points. The high points include the fact that the projects are terrific assessment tools that help me to clearly understand where individual students are as well as the whole class. Another high point is that the project makes students stretch their mathematical thinking in positive ways, and the project fosters excellent questioning as well as trial and error as students use multiple strategies to solve problems and complete the project.

Some of the challenges for the floor-to-ceiling projects include these:

First, students have not had a lot of practice with this kind of learning. They resist the organization, teamwork, questioning, and perseverance that's required to meet the project expectations. Next when staffing is short, it's often difficult to meet the teaching expectations of projects like these since many times substitute teachers don't have the knowledge or skill related to coaching students ahead with these kinds of projects in inclusion classrooms. And the projects demand a level of in-depth review that requires good attention, and sometimes the busyness of projects like this don't allow for that deep on-the-spot review.

I really like what floor-to-ceiling projects for student learning and thinking. I want to better the process in this regard and give students more chances to get used to how to succeed at projects like this. It's worthy learning, but it's not always easy. Onward.

The Week's Agenda: February 11th 2019

It's going to be another busy week and a positive week. What's on the Agenda?

Extra Help Mornings
I'll continue extra-help mornings this week to support students' project work and Valentine's boxes.

Fraction Projects
Students will complete fraction projects at the start of the week. I'll review the directions and then support students' efforts to completion.

Climate Change Service Learning Projects
Our naturalist in residence will visit to coach students ahead with these projects.

Portfolio Work
Students will complete an overall assessment of their fifth grade learning so far and place those reflections, assessments, and images into their portfolios for upcoming student-led family conferences.

Kindness to Self, Kindness to Others
I'll read the book Let's Talk About Race, lead a class discussion, and focus in on a project that helps students to think about the positive aspects of who they are. We'll discuss the fact that if you love and support yourself that positivity serves as a magnet with regard to your relationships with others. We'll also focus on kindness to others and creativity as we marvel at students Valentine's Day Boxes, vote for winners of multiple creative categories, and enjoy Valentine's Day cards.

Reading RTI Groups
We'll begin our new reading RTI groups and continue our all stop and read mornings.

Science Property Study
Students will review the properties of a number of objects as they continue to practice working as a positive science team and using lots of science tools and materials.

More Fairy Tales
To end the week, students will read more fairy tales with their buddies and decorate crowns as a symbol of the royalty characters that often star in fairy tale books.

After Vacation Prep
I'll xerox fraction study packets for after-vacation learning and collect fraction projects and other signature learning for vacation review and portfolio prep.

The big focus this week is to center the efforts on positive coaching students forward with as much care and attention as possible. Onward.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Positivity in School

As a critical thinker, I have to stop myself now and then to list the good happening in my midst, good thanks to incredible efforts by so many colleagues, parents, students, and community members. While sometimes I feel burdened by the potential for betterment and the obstacles that exist, I can't forget how much good happens including the following events:

Mindful Moment Share
A colleague leads children's mindful moment at every school assembly. Children get up and tell a short story about how mindfulness techniques help them to be successful, then, with my colleague, they lead the whole school in a mindful moment. This is such a positive event for our whole school community.

Friday Afternoon Kindergarten Buddies
Fifth graders end the week by spending time reading and writing with their kindergarten buddies. This is a win-win for both the fifth graders and the kindergartners. It is a positive, engaging, and educational way to end the week.

New Science/STEAM Program, Materials, and Collegial Efforts
Our team approach to teaching science as well as the new materials and systemwide focus in this area has been very positive. Students LOVE the projects and direction the program is taking. There is still room for growth, but this is a positive effort.

Reading RTI
Our reading specialist and ELA curriculum director use data well to support positive RTI efforts in reading, efforts that truly help all students learn to read with greater ability and enjoyment.

All Stop and Read
Our grade-level efforts to increase All Stop and Read time has resulted in increased success with reading for all students. Teacher modeling, book share, and encouragement help to make this a successful team effort.

Cultural Celebrations and Experiences
School, systemwide, and community events that help us all to acknowledge, learn about, and celebrate a wide variety of cultural traditions helps to build a happy, welcoming, knowing, and respectful teaching/learning community. This week's focus on the Lunar New Year was a great example of this.

Cultural Proficiency
Systemwide efforts over time focused on anti-racist teaching, cultural celebrations, and explicit teaching related to inclusion, respect, and diversity have helped to make our teaching/learning environment a respectful, safe, and curious teaching/learning community.

Field Studies
Our many wonderful field studies enrich our teaching/learning program. The fact that parents are able to pay online for these studies has helped to streamline the efforts to plan these events.

Team Teaching
Our ability to teach the whole fifth grade as a team has strengthened what we can do and what we can learn from each other. We are able to give our students more as a team than we could as individual classroom teachers. This is positive and the creative ways with which we approach this team teaching helps us to best meet student needs and interests.

Dedicated Colleagues and a Strong Local/State Union
There are always a lot of new, well-researched, and well directed initiatives at play in our school communitiy. These initiatives depend on the talents, dedication, and skill of inspiring colleagues. While there's often debate with regard to these new initiatives, there is also great growth and success. This makes our teaching/learning environment dynamic.

Sufficient Materials, Wonderful Playground
We mostly have what we need to teach well.

Increasing Teacher Leadership, Voice, and Choice
While I believe there is still room for developing process and flattening the hierarchy at school, recent efforts to give educators more ownership and choice of their professional learning time is a step in the right direction. I know that the more the system recognizes the potential that optimal teacher leadership, voice, and choice holds, the better we will be as a learning community.

There is much to be grateful for and there remains much to grow and finesse in the days ahead. While we need to assess and critique our teaching/learning efforts always, we also have to recognize the countless examples of positive, enriching teaching/learning work that's happening too.

Decisions made for you or with you?

There are countless decisions made in a school environment which begs the question, what decisions should be made for educators and what decisions should be made with educators? Of course as an educator, I believe that good, transparent process should enlist our voices in most, if not all, decisions that affect the work we do with and for students.

That being said, sometimes teachers are not interested in the outcome or put their confidence in other decision makers. For example, with regard to a recent initiative, I didn't get involved as I had full trust that one of my colleagues would carry it out with good decision making. I knew my time was better spent on other pursuits while the colleague was eager to invest in the initiative referenced. Similarly a decision was discussed with the whole school through a number of correspondences and invitations. I didn't get involved and because of that I made a mental note that if I was discouraged with the outcome, I would have to stay quiet as I had a chance to impact that work, but chose not to do that. Once again, I mostly chose not to get involved because I had great trust in those who were making the decision.

Sometimes with regard to students, teachers make choices for them. We're the adults in the room and it's our charge to make some of those decisions. However, we know that the more we give students choice over their work and effort, the better they do. So where possible we open up the decision making to students. For example with a recent fraction project, children got to make the choice about the topic they would use for the stories they are writing. They are more motivated with the project due to that choice. We also give choices about who to work with, what books to read, story topics, seating decisions, some scheduling choices, and more.

In today's world, I believe we have to think carefully about the decision making processes we use. I believe that better process will lead to better, more includive, and satisfying decisions. I am thinking about how to better processes with regard to the work I do with and for colleagues and students. I know that there's room for growth and betterment here and will continue to read, study, and try out new paths in this realm.

Decision making is an important part of the work we do as educators, and how those decisions are made is important to the good work possible.

Deal with problems while they are small

The students were worried about a situation. The situation was not uncommon to a fifth grade class, however the situation merited a good conversation. The bottom line was that it's important to get a teacher's help if there's a problem you can't solve on your own, and it's best to seek help sooner or later.

We discussed some bigger issues in society, issues that people let get bigger and issues that turned into troubling situations. I noted that if people had sought help or spoken up while those issues were small, everyone would have learned and everyone would have had less troubles later on. I referenced the words from the Newtown parents, "See something, say something" and noted that those words have been successful saving people from greater trouble and helping people to do the right thing.

These are important words for teachers to consider too--our every action matters in schools. We have to be cognizant of all the small problems that students face and use those problems as stepping stones to good knowledge about how to speak up and how to do the right thing. As I also told students today, elementary school is a time to learn from your mistakes, and this learning helps you to make good decisions later on in life.

In thinking about this and thinking about our team's explicit efforts to help students uderstand and practice the skills of good teamwork, I will be looking out for the small infractions, errors, and needs so that we can use those events individually and as a group to grow students' skills and abilitites, skills and abilities that will give them capacity for good learning and living as they mature.

What is Positive Information Share?

Good information share is integral to the work we do. When we know what's happening, we can do better work because we can prepare for future efforts and change. I'm probably cognizant of this because time is short and it's important to use that time well.

Hearsay and conjecture too often waste time because hearsay and conjecture are often untrue, misguided, and problematic. It's better to find out the truth of the matter rather than rely on hearsay and conjecture.

For example recently I heard a couple of reports that seemed improbable--the reports didn't make sense so I reached out to find out the facts so I could move forward in a way that used time well with good knowledge. Typically in schools most information is easily shared since the efforts we work together on are not issues that have to be kept private, instead they are issues that follow public decision making and action channels.

As I think of this topic and the year ahead, I am thinking of the information most integral to the work I do which includes information related to curriculum efforts and change, scheduling, and supports. For example, at this time, I don't expect any big curriculum changes, since there are many efforts in the works to update curriculum to match relatively new state standards and cognitive research. We have a number of assessments in place that help us to guage our work to see if we're hitting the targets we have set, targets such as students' ability to read, write, and understand mathematics, social studies, and science well. And goals related to building strong, supportive teams. These are good goals that present a good level of positive challenge and growth ahead.

Information share that is timely, respectful, and clear is essential with regard to doing the good work possible. Regular updates that are inclusive help in this regard.

Of course there will be questions and room for growth. Often when we send our newsletters out to famlies, we receive questions with regard to clarification--those questions help us to better our communication and clarity.

As I noted to students today as we discussed a class challenge, when we ask questions early on and report troubles while they are small, we avoid bigger, more troubling issues later on. So even though a question may be troubling, it's better to ask, than to rely on hearsay and conjecture which may be untrue or unclear. Onward.

A Hilly Day

Up, down, and all around. It was a hilly day. Sometimes one day can seem like a whole week in an elementary school because so much happens in the day.

Today ended on a great note with the fifth graders writing fairy tales with their kindergarten buddies--a joyful event. There was also a spring-like recess too at the very end of the day.

Before that one student completed an excellent slide show about potential and kinetic energy, we started our new science rotations with a focus on teamwork, and had a terrific reading data meeting that focused on how we can help children to read, read, read with confidence, enjoyment, and skill.

It was a very busy week all in all with the faculty meeting, report cards, and a host of other professional meetings, discussions, prep, and planning.

Next week's focus includes fraction project completion, climate change projects, Valentine's Day mailboxes, science exploration, and the start of portfolio work. It's the weekend prior to vacation so we'll want to catch up on and complete lots of work. Onward.

Five years later. . .

An idea I forwarded about five years ago occurred this year. I am grateful that the idea finally took hold. It's been a positive change for the very reasons I forwarded the idea so long ago, an idea that was met with disdain when first shared.

The tables that have made teaching and learning so much better in my classroom were requested about five years ago too. After year-after-year no's and lack of support, I finally found an avenue and funder.

The challenge is having ideas that take five years to gain a foothold. Why the long wait? Why couldn't my research, advocacy, and ideas be met with open minds, support, and positivity at the initial stages.

I realize that this is the painful birthing process for any good idea--good ideas typically take time, but that knowledge doesn't make the wait any less tiresome and frustrating. Onward.

What do my students need?

As I think about my teaching/learning direction, I am thinking about what students need and how I can be there for them. That's the center of my teaching/learning work--that's where my time and energy is focused.

My students need the following:
  • continued engaging learning experiences, expert visitors, field studies, and special events. These activities are engaging, create a dynamic learning community, and educate children well.
  • targeted, personal supports. All the children learn differently, and the more we can offer targeted, personal supports when needed, the greater success and confidence each child will experience.
  • positive, collaborative, supportive learning community of educators, students, families, leaders, and community members--the more we work together to foster optimal teaching and learning for the children, the better our programs will be.
  • deep, meaningful, timely, and research-based learning experiences. When learning eperiences are the result of good learning, apt materials, inviting spaces, and optimal student teaching/coaching, the better those learning experiences will be.
  • positive, respectful, open minded relationships that invite respectful debate, diversity, and time for positive collaboration. 
  • taking a personal interest in every child and their family.
  • collegial support--together we can do so much for students.
Continued attention to these efforts will spell success in the school house. These are critical priorities. 

Too Many Mandates

It seems like lots of new mandates have come my way in the past few weeks. These mandates sit on top of an already full list of have-to's in the school house and like the last wooden piece added on the Jenga game before it topples, the capacity is teetering.

When a system has too many leaders and not enough educators who work with students, problems occur. As I have written about time and time again, we lose capacity when there are too many people in schools distanced from students. When you have too many bosses and not enough people doing the day-to-day work in the classrooms, in the lunchroom, and on the playground, problems arise.

What's a teacher to do?

First, this brings me back to servant leadership which I feel is the best leadership model for service organizations like schools and perhaps any organization. When we work for those who we serve, we do our best work. On the other hand if we work solely for our own ambition and success, we lose capacity with regard to what we can do for those we serve. For example if a mandate is forwarded solely for a photo op or evaluation evidence, that mandate will create more havoc than success. On the other hand, when a mandate is forwarded with collaboration, good process, and solid aim, then that mandate or initiative has the capacity to uplift an entire community.

One of the most discouraging aspects of the many mandates at my teaching doorstep, is the fact that there's little lead time or collaboration involved in these mandates. They are layered on top without good process and with little lead time. Good planning is often missing with regard to these mandates which makes their last minute dictates onerous and oppressive.

What's a teacher to do?

I guess the best direction for me is to use this experience as one more opportunity to deepen my commitment to servant leadership -- to recognize just how deadly these last minute mandates feel, and to realize that students feel the same way when we don't work with them and for them, but forward our own priorities first. The children are the reason we teach and they should be the main focus of all of our efforts.

What does this mean in real time?

It means re-looking at the way time is used in school, and directing that time in ways that elevate the experience of school for children. Real time efforts in this regard include the following:
  • Extra help sessions
  • Active playground and social supports
  • Engaging learning experiences
  • Time for student presentation, conversation, debate, and teamwork
  • Targeted, personalized supports
  • Advocacy for what really matters at schools rather than structures that have little positive impact on student learning and success
This realization also reminds me to steer clear of ill-directed efforts, efforts that turn us away from the good work possible including senseless meetings, committees that go nowhere, demeaning initiatives, and ambition-driven photo ops. 


Thursday, February 07, 2019

Whose Voices are Heard?

It's important to consider the voices heard, the voices unheard and why the difference exists?

It's important to consider who you listen to, and who you don't listen to and why the difference?

It's important to consider if you listen to those who society may hold up as important and not listen to those who society may demean.

It's important to think about whose voices matter in your world, and how you listen to those voices, acknowledge their words, and regard their perspectives.

Listening is sometimes easy and sometimes very difficult for all kinds of reasons.

As I think of this tonight, I am thinking of times when I've been heard and times when I have been ignored. To be ignored is hurtful and to be listened to is affirming.

Our students are also cognizant of who is listening to them and who is not--like us, they hope to be heard, respected, and regarded.

Sometimes structures create difficult situations for listening. For example sometimes when I'm fully involved with teaching, there are some who want to stop by and talk. I can't talk then as my responsibility is with the children.

Sometimes there are some whose jobs are so cumbersome and time-consuming, that they rarely have time to talk or be listened to. They are relegated to jobs that provide them with no one to talk to and no one to listen. Those kinds of jobs are very lonely and isolating. In most cases, those kinds of jobs should not exist as they lack dignity.

Good process creates opportunities for good listening. When good process doesn't exist, voices are often not heard. Equity is integral to being heard as is honesty and ethics--in unethical, self-serving, unjust environments, there are many voices that are left unheard.

In the days ahead, I'll be thinking of this topic. I'll be thinking of it particularly as I consider the many students I teach, meetings I attend, people I collaborate with, friends, and family members.

There is much to hear in this noisy, busy lives of ours, and that means we have to be even more cognizant of the need to listen and truly hear what others have to say.

Areas of Less Impact

I have to continually remind myself to steer clear of those areas where my impact and control is less. There are some areas of the teaching/learning arena that are frustrating, but in those areas, I have little control. Those areas have to be relegated to the waiting area until I figure out a way to impact those areas with strength. In the meantime, I have to keep the focus directed to the areas where I have capacity. Onward.

Program Evolution and Change

This year's program is on go--the priorities are clear and there's lots of leg work to do in order to reach those priorities.

In the back of my mind, I'm thinking about next year too. Where are we going and what will be important?

As I think of next year, I am thinking that over the past few years a lot has been put in place including the following:
  • Strong and growing math and science program
  • Positive field experiences and expert visitors
  • Terrific classroom learning environment
  • Positive scheduling
  • Great communication with the learning community
  • Good professional learning and growth
I am very happy with the program we've created on our own and with the help of others.

In the year ahead, the following issues will take focus:
  • Continuing our summer planning session
  • Continuing to develop my knowledge in the areas of teaching focus
  • Building our efforts to teach SEL and foster good teamwork particularly in the science curriculum
  • Finding ways to fit the new social studies standards which may mean a bit of change with regard to our main focus areas of teaching
  • Supporting a new principal in the school
  • Working with a new schedule and looking for ways to optimize service delivery times and focus. 
This is a short list of growth compared to years past which demonstrates that our good work in the past has laid a positive foundation for future work and growth. 

Chart the Issue

Quite some time ago I read Intentional Interruption. The research in the book made an impact on me. One fact that stayed with me is the way that information that has a strong emotional impact on us may seem to be more problematic than the issues truly are.

Recently there have been a few issues in the school house that have created strong emotion in me. I am wondering just how real the problems related to these issues are so I've decided to chart the information for a month. I'll keep track of the words, timing, and other facts related to the issue and then in one month, I'll use the data to do a truthful analysis that addresses the following questions:

  • Does the data support my emotion/feelings in this situation?
  • If the data does support what I'm feeling, what are the next steps with regard to creating positive change? 
  • How can we use this analysis to better our programming in the days ahead?
Before jumping to conclusions, it's critical that we take a holistic look at a situation including formal and informal data collection. 

For example one of my main charges at school is teaching fifth graders math. We have a number of assessment practices that helps us to assess our progress in this area. As I grow the program, I am paying close attention to those assessments including systemwide assessments, state assessments, student surveys, formal/informal observation, and collegial discussion/conversation. 

This mix of formal and informal data demonstrates to me that some are doing very well and for others, we need to look for how we can support them more and better. Some structures put in place to support this betterment includes extra help sessions, greater tailoring of lesson delivery, preferential seating for listening or follow-the-leader lessons and more. 

It's critical that we don't waste time on a lot of discussion that is not well researched or understood--we have to do the good work to prove the issues true or false, and then we have to work at betterment in those situations. Onward. 

Clear Priorities

What seems doable sometimes turns out to be too much. That happened this week. While the menu is good, it's simply more than we have time for, thus it's time to prioritize yet again.

Math Education

  1. Before vacation:
    1. Complete fraction projects
  2. After vacation:
    1. Prep math section of the math portfolio including volume reflections and overall reflections.
    2. Work on explicit fraction study and practice with fraction packets.
    3. Fraction assessment.
    4. Measurement, polygon review
    5. Standards review and systemwide spring assessments including MCAS
  1. Physical Science Rotation beginning with teamwork focus and then including FOSS lessons and standards-based physical science lessons.
  2. Local Water Studies Presentation
  3. STEAM Team Projects
  4. Science review and MCAS
  5. Climate Change Advocacy Projects
  6. Spring Environmental Education Hike
  7. Global Cardboard Challenge Festival
Social Studies/Community Building
  1. Active recess support
  2. Class meetings
  3. Time for student support, listening, helping
  4. Kindergarten buddies
  5. Biography Project
There are a number of other initiatives that will be put on hold until summer study and next year including the following:
  • Advocacy for a better RTI model
  • Re-looking at service scheduling and support 
As I've noted a number of times, there is so much good capacity for optimal teaching and learning this year, and more than anything the focus is on meeting that potential with lots of real time efforts. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Too Much

It's all good, but it's too much. This is a problem of privilege, but a problem nonetheless.

Basically it has been a challenging learning/teaching week simply because I've tried to cram too much into one week's time. Some of the extras that have complicated the schedule included the monthly morning faculty meeting, completing progress reports, curriculum prep/refinement, and the new math project. All of this has created a too-heavy load which has seeped into the time I need to serve children well.

What many who put together curriculum, but don't work with children, forget is that children demand a good amount of time for lots of issues that are not on the curriculum, issues such as illness, lost items, friendship problems, stories to tell, and learning needs and interests--lots of learning needs and interests. Most parents know this because it is truly limitless what we can do for our children, however time and energy are limited commodities, thus the challenge.

It's a lot easier to be sensitive, kind, and helpful when you keep the schedule lighter, yet it's hard to try something new or reach for better with a light schedule since that innovation and betterment takes time.

Tomorrow, I'll strive to create a more manageable, kind, and caring day--one with enough time to focus on the myriad of child needs in my midst. I can't forget that when we add something time consuming to a week like progress reports, then something else has to go. When you add to the schedule time doesn't change which means you have to change the schedule.

The good news in all of this is that the fraction project is taking hold and students are doing some amazing work. The field trip went well, and we found time to complete the progress reports, write the grant, and help out with some child friendship issues too. Now it's time to move forward.

Busier Than Ever; More Positive Than Ever

You know that phrase, "Be careful for what you wish for." Well I've been wishing for the kinds of teaching and learning opportunities that exist for me now, and I must say I have no regrets. Though busier than ever, I finally have a teaching environment that provides me with what I need to do a good job. Now the challenge is to maximize the use of the great supports that abound to do that good job.

Of course, it's never perfect. There's room for growth, but the promise here is that people are listening, responding, asking more questions, and providing needed help. This is much different from days of old when new ideas were met with sarcastic comments and/or no response at all. So I am not complaining.

I could literally work around the clock given all the capacity I have now, but of course working around the clock does no one any good, so I just have to continue to push forward on this positive to-do list of good teaching/learning activities including the following:

  1. Complete WPSF grant proposal if approved by needed leadership
  2. Prep additional materials for students' fraction project. Respond to student project work as needed.
  3. Forward portfolio work for upcoming student/family conferences:
    1. Prep stat files and sheets for upcoming student portfolio work.
    2. Review student homework and project work for upcoming portfolios.
    3. Create a few reflection sheets for the portfolios.
    4. Forward the portfolio work. 
  4. Prep for the new science rotation including the following:
    1. More role tags, folders
    2. Initial teamwork lesson
    3. Student science lab books
    4. Question/Focus mini posters including pedagogical priorities, standards-based questions, key vocabulary, and order-of-study
    5. Continue to organize materials and material carts
  5. Prep for new reading RTI groups and revisit reading time expectations with all students.
  6. Focus on teamwork in general with the whole group
  7. Prep for upcoming climate change advocacy project work for and with students.
Keep going!

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Ragtime Field Study

Each year our team chooses a number of field studies to enrich the curriculum for all students. Today we went to see Ragtime at the Wheelock Theater. The play was described well in a Boston Globe review with this quote:

"Whether fictional or real, everyone in “Ragtime’’ is pursuing some version of the American dream. But a central point of both the novel and the musical is that the course and outcome of those pursuits vary hugely depending on race and class."

We chose to see Ragtime for the following reasons:

  • To show students a life other than their own
  • To address social issues that we face today and in the past in society
  • To exemplify what a musical is since students put on their own musical in the spring
  • To build a more culturally proficient program which aims to develop respect and appreciation of all people via the arts
The play introduced students to multiple themes that we will return to throughout the year as we zero in on respect for one another, anti-racist anti-prejudice teaching, historic figures who impacted our world today in positive ways, and what it means to practice, produce, and perform a musical for an audience.

I surveyed the students afterwards and the play got high marks from most students. It was interesting to hear about the parts that they found most intriguing and the parts that were less interesting. With every field study, children's reflections demonstrate their individuality finding variability about what they like most and what they don't like the most. This is why it is good to present a variety of field studies to the group, a variety where hopefully everyone will have a few memorable, valuable learning experiences. 

Tutoring in School

Many families with means hire tutors for their children. These tutors provide one-to-one support with regard to learning expectations.

Yesterday, curious about why a child is not testing well, I had a chance to work one-to-one with her. I learned so much about how this child thinks and attacks assessments and assignments. The child learns well, but can really profit from some one-to-one support.

I believe that too often our efforts in school are not targeted enough. I think we need to build in more time for dynamic tutoring models especially for students who struggle. Often a child's struggles can be easily remedied with some deep and knowing one-to-one work.

How can we do this in schools where teachers teach large numbers of students at a time?

I think we can do the following:

  • Go deeper with our collegial efforts to diagnose student's needs and then to meet those needs with worthy tutoring-like efforts.
  • Look at how we use time and make more time for effective support models. In this regard, I think we can re-look at how we do Response to Intervention to buy some time here.
  • Give assistant teachers more tools, support and time to provide this kind of tutoring support.
  • Re-look at special educator models to see how that time is spent in classrooms and with students to potentially create deeper, more tailored support. This doesn't mean a return to a pull-out model, but instead a richer model of choosing well when to push-in, when to pull-out and how to work with assignments to build the best possible learning from and with every child.
  • Re-look at how core teaching times are used and how differentiation is led in those core, homogeneous teaching/learning times.
  • Re-look at roles in schools to assess how many roles actually spend time with students, and how many roles are simply coaching/leadership roles that have little contact with students. I think that we need to make sure that most educators in schools are working regularly with students while it is important to have a few roles that may be directed towards leadership only, but not too many. 
To provide in-school tutoring is another way of leveling the opportunity gap. When some children receive this help and others don't, you will have an unequal playing field of learning. 

I wish I had more of this tutoring time as I know I could help more students this way, but for now, I'll look for ways to increase this and advocate for more of this time across the system and within schools too.