Saturday, February 16, 2019

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.