Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Post Learning Walks: Back on Track

Our team put a lot of time into prepping for the administrative learning walks. The upside of all this work is that it's work that serves the teaching/learning now and into the future well--the materials are better organized, the teaching pattern enhanced, and the learning environment updated. This is all good.

Now it's time to get back on track with the day-to-day teaching efforts. What's on the agenda?

Showcase Portfolios
Tomorrow I'll meet with most students to review the math sections of their showcase portfolios. Students will engage in math practice exercises and more portfolio work while I do that.

Lit Mix
We'll continue reading our book about a grandfather and grandson. I'm helping my small group learn to use brain frames to better understand, visualize, and enjoy stories in order to build their comprehension and interest in reading.

During prep time, I'll prepare for tomorrow's portfolio completion lesson for the homeroom, science model making lesson for the science rotation, and a focus on non-fiction reading for buddy time.

Professional Learning: The professional learning focus right now is computational thinking as I'll attend a state supported Saturday workshop on the topic this week and then follow up with teaching a computational thinking fraction unit to my students beginning next week.

Student-Led Family/Teacher Conferences
Next week will be a full week of conferences. Students will be ready to present their signature work and goals.

Principal Finalist Candidates
There are a couple of morning meetings ahead to meet the finalist candidates for the new principal position.

Climate Change Service Projects
There's a bit of prep to do to prepare for these teaching/learning lessons to come.

Our teaching/learning plates are full right now, but fortunately it's all positive and that's terrific. The open, honest, and inviting attitudes of so many leaders and colleagues in my midst has created a top-notch learning/teaching opportunity, and this is such a welcome event.

Learning Walks: Prep, Anticipation, and Execution

Part One: Anticipation
Today our fifth grade team will be one focus of the administrative learning walks. I admit I didn't volunteer for this, but when my colleague said yes, I went along with her decision. In general, I'm not a fan of learning walks since I believe it's too shallow compared to a deeper process of education conversation, planning, assessment, analysis, and development.

That being said, there have already been a number of positive results from this effort including the following:
  • I took a deeper look at expectations since I knew that's what the administrative team will focus on.
  • I made time to do a deep clean and organization of classroom materials and supplies. Similar to having company at your home, visitors inspire a deep clean.
  • I re-made a number of guiding posters and messages in the classroom too.
  • We prepared for these walks as a team which benefitted my preparation and lesson to come. 
As I think of these positives, I recognize that this must be an agreeable list for any administrator doing learning walks--they want to inspire those kinds of actions in their schools and amongst their educators.

So when the leaders walk in today, I'll put my best foot forward. I'll look forward to their responses and consider their commentary carefully as I continue to develop and grow the overall teaching program and, in particular, the science teaching program which is the focus of their visit. Fortunately I know all of the visitors and their fine reputations as educators and responsive, sensitive, and experienced leaders. Onward.

Part Two
I want to jot down notes from the learning walk while they're fresh. There were lots of positives and some areas for growth too.

What worked:

  • Good lesson progression
  • Nice level of student independence, conversation, collaboration
  • Use of roles
  • Organization of materials
What could be better:
  • Focus question card that's more prominent in the classroom
  • Better vocabulary cards that students can use as they write their explanations
  • More practice with roles and what each role means (I may start using the roles in math too to provide greater practice)
  • Reminder that students are supposed to stay in their own lab space during the experiment
  • Meaningful time to write, read, and share at end of lesson
All in all it was a good lesson. I'll be interested to see what the observers have to say. Onward. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Days Ahead: March 2019

Students returned from February vacation happy and ready to learn. We've focused the first few days back on updating student showcase portfolios. Students have been asked to do a lot of think about who they are, what they like, and how they're doing related to all academic areas as well as areas of interest and passion. Tomorrow and Thursday we'll continue this process. I'll have the chance to review the portfolios with children as we prep for the student-led family/teacher conferences next week.

With that work prepped and ready to go, it's time to think about the efforts ahead which include the following:

Physical Science Standards and Lessons
We're on our way with this curriculum. Students enjoy it, and there's lots left to teach.

Fraction Study
We made a good start with this curriculum, and now it's time to dig into some explicit teaching, practice, pre-assessment, and assessment.

Reading, Reading, Reading
Students are making terrific progress with reading. I want to continue to focus on this critical component of the curriculum.

Climate Change Service Learning Projects
I will make some serious time for this study Thursday and Friday.

Science Fair Movie
Our latest class movie is Science Fair--it's wonderful, inspiring, and thought provoking. We watch a little bit each week.

Professional Learning
There's lots of reading to do and some prep for the April ATMIM Conference too. This Saturday I'll also attend a DESE sponsored math day focused on computational thinking which I'm looking forward too.

There's never a dull moment in the life of a teacher, and right now things are more positive than ever. Onward.

Politics Matter: Be Smart

We cannot afford to be manipulated, fooled, used, and cheated.

We have to be smart in today's world as we navigate politics, finances, laws, and leadership.

We can't forget that no matter how small we are, we have the power to make a difference and choose well.

What can we do?

Read, read, read and stay informed
Collect good articles that help you to understand current day politics, communication, and information well. Here's one article to start your research.

Talk to people, be generous
Yesterday I met a great young man who helped me with a car repair issue. As I spoke to him, I encouraged him to register to vote. I told him that his age group was the group that voted the least and the group that struggles the most. I encouraged him to register and to talk to his friends about registering. I told him about Senator Warren's ideas about universal child care, livable wages, and opportunity for all. The more we can get out there and talk to people about what matters, the more empowered our country will be.

Donate time, energy, capacity, and money
This is a tricky part of the equation because many people are maxed out. I suggest that you make some time to think about what you might be able to donate in terms of time and money, and do that. I am making time this weekend to think about this and make some decisions in this regard.

Believe in your individual and collective power
Don't be fooled by those who want you to believe you don't matter. Your every word, action, and choice matters.

Do you experience full brain?

Do you experience full brain?

Full brain is similar to a cup that's filled to the brim. You just can't pour any more water into that cup because it will simply spill over. That's what full brain feels like and looks like.

I'd be interested in what full brain looks like via a brain imaging images and I'm curious what neurologists consider full brain to be. In the meantime, I know that I experience full brain every late winter and spring in school, and the following attributes characterize that full brain:

  • More to do than time to do it
  • Need to focus on the details
  • Plans are set and there's little room for anything new or different
  • Time is spoken for
  • Energy and time for new ideas are limited at best
Since my daily reading and study continues to introduce me to new and better ideas even though I have full brain, I've devised a good way to deal with this condition. I create a 2019-2020 prep list and I add links to new ideas, articles, and efforts that I want to consider with depth over the summer to that list. Then when my brain space opens up again in the summer months, I take a deep look at those ideas. If I believe the ideas will positively impact our systemwide think and efforts, I'll share the articles with system leaders right away so that we don't lose the opportunity to stay up to date and provide our students with the best possible teaching/learning opportunities.

What do you do when you face full brain? How do you deal with this as an educator? I'm curious. 

Student-Led Teacher/Family Member Conferences: Showcase Portfolio Updates

Students began updating their showcase portfolios yesterday with reflections, images, and examples of signature learning. Today we'll continue that effort as students focus on their overall learning attitudes, efforts, interests, and needs.

I'll begin this morning by leading students through a reflection packet where they will reflect upon a number of specific learning/teaching points. Then students will add images and signature work to their portfolios. I'll review their completed efforts and help out where needed. Next week students will use the portfolios as a guide to lead the student-led parent/family conferences.

We are making the time in the curriculum to focus in on students' ownership of their learning using the showcase portfolios that include reflection packets, images, and examples of signature work as the centerpiece of this effort. While I have tried using digital portfolios in the past, I still find that these handheld books are the best vehicle for the conference share and conversation at this age and grade in our teaching/learning community.

There have been many articles (see links below) about the value of student-led conferences recently, and both our experience and the evidence related to the value of these student-led conferences are what support the time we make to prepare for these worthwhile meetings twice a year.

Related Articles
Edutopia: When Students Lead Parent Conferences
Edutopia: Developing Agency with Student-Led Conferences

Setting up the Science Lab

My recent posts about science teaching probably seem peculiar to middle school and high school teachers who specialize in the subject, however as an elementary school teacher who has to morph her general education classroom into a science lab several times a week, the posts are the directions I seek when it comes to improving science education at the elementary level.

Today I'll spend my prep time and more setting up the science lab for tomorrow's exploration. What does that specifically mean?

Website Prep
I updated the science website with the information I'll use to lead the lab. The website is available to students at any time to review or enrich their science study.

Student Science Folders and Science Notebooks
Students will bring their science notebooks and folders to class. They will bring their notebooks back and forth to their homeroom, but store their science folders in their personal math/science drawer in the clasroom.

Lab Report
Utilizing information from a number of resources including the system's core FOSS science program, I created a lab report template to lead students through the expected explorations as well as to give them space to record their findings.

Role Cards and TeamFolders
Students have been placed into teams and each team has a lab table in the classroom. At the start of the lesson students will receive their team folder including the lab reports and team role cards. Students will choose roles and then review the lab report with the teacher prior to starting the explorations.

Supply Table
Supplies for the exploration will be set up on the supply the table. Supplies for this exploration are numerous including the following:
  • one tray
  • screen
  • funnel
  • bottle w/cap
  • scale, weights
  • gravel
  • powder
  • salt
  • syringe
  • pitcher of water
  • teaspoon
  • container of wipes to clean up the table
  • 3 teaspoon, wipes
  • 3 plastic cups
  • 5 stickers
  • sharpie
  • one balloon for each student on your team
Presentation Space
The presentation space will be set up so that I can guide students work using the white board, website, and overhead projector.

Lab Table Prep
Students will prepare the learning spaces by removing their daily supply caddies and storing those on a cozy chair near their table, and covering the tables with the vinyl sunflower table cloths.

Science Library
Science reading and research materials will be stored in a "science library" container for student reference and review. 

Apt science prep is an important part of teaching science well. That prep takes time and organization. The new science standards have meant that elementary educators have to think differently about their learning/teaching spaces, storage, professional learning, and prep. This marks a transition for all of us who are working to better teach science at the elementary level. Overall, as noted previously, this is a positive transition motivated mainly by students' tremendous enthusiasm for the subject. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Why Student Self Reflection?

I'll wake students up from their vacation mindset with a two-day reflective activity that asks them to review their past projects/performance and reflect upon it with questions that ask students to think about what they learned, what they did well, and what more they could do. The questions also ask students to think about how they can help themselves and how family members and teachers can help them meet learning needs, interests, and expectations.

Why does reflection matter?

First, reflection puts the main decision making into the students' hands. It's their thoughts that matter, and we know that what they think has a dramatic impact on what they care about and what they do?

Next, students' reflections will inform me well about what more or different I can do to support their learning well.

And, the reflection effort creates conversation amongst the learning community beginning today as students consult classmates and teachers while they complete their reflections and later when students share their reflections with family members and other teachers at student-led family-teacher conferences.

To do this well, I need to prepare the reflection templates, pass out hard copies of student project work including fraction projects, fraction project reflection sheets, volume project images, volume project reflections, and a summary reflection packet.

We'll start this work today, complete it tomorrow, and students will place the work in their showcase portfolios.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Vacation's Over: Last Week in February 2019

It's been an awesome vacation week and tomorrow we'll return to school.

Our school leaders and PTO are easing our way back in by scheduling cultural enrichment events on the first morning back. So tomorrow we'll begin the week with a wonderful puppet show. Then we'll move into a number of math reflections as students prepare for upcoming student-let parent conferences.

There will be time to read with book groups and on our own, and time for physical education too.

Meanwhile, I'll be prepping stats reports for those conferences and reviewing students' project work while making time for some healthy personal routines too. A good week ahead.

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.