Saturday, March 23, 2019

What Works: Successful Teaching and Learning

As I reflect on the 2018-2019 teaching/learning year so far, I know that I want to continue the same practices this spring and next year:

Transition Meeting and Materials
We provide students with access to our grade-level website, supply list, welcome letter, and summer math study packet on transition day. We have a positive meeting of all upcoming fifth graders and then meet in the homerooms. Generally in the homeroom, I ask students to introduce themselves to me and tell me about one positive learning event in school or out of school they've experienced.

I've been advocating for a long time to improve our orientation process with some success. We've been hosting students who do not live in the community during our second teacher prep morning so those students have a chance to walk around the school, set up their desks/drawers, have an informal breakfast with the teachers, and talk about the year to come. This has been very positive, however we need the support of many to make sure that these students learn about the event, have permission to ride the bus, and feel comfortable attending.

On the first day of school the team engages in a number of welcoming, orientation events for all students as we begin the school year and begin to establish positive relationships with every student and every family.

I believe that orientation efforts matter a lot, and I think it's an area that we can continue to develop as a school community.

An Inviting, Welcoming Classroom
A perennial challenge for me is to set up the classroom so it is a welcoming space where everything has a place. This is probably challenging because I'm fitting lots of materials, furniture, and people into a relatively small space for many varied learning experiences. It's not your sit-at-your-desk teaching/learning environment. Over the years there have been many changes to the environment that I definitely want to keep including the following:
  • Easy to access supply drawers filled with all kinds of materials to teach in varied, engaging ways.
  • Large butcher block tables for learning
  • Student drawers for supplies
  • Metal paper holders for paper
  • Book baskets and shelves
  • Toy basket and building materials
  • Supply caddies and maps on tabletops
  • STEAM and supply cabinets
  • Science shelves
  • Science tables
  • Comfy chairs
  • Hoki stools
I want to better organize those supplies in the days ahead and get rid of materials we don't use anymore. I'd like to order the following materials to even better the environment next year:
  • magnetic book holders so students can store the books they're reading in visible, accessible ways. (Lakeshore)
  • better pencil sharpeners and staplers
  • glue guns for project work
  • more playground balls -- we're always running out of those
In general I have most of what I need and it's time to sort, shift, and reorganize to better the environment.

Morning Routine
We have established a positive morning routine that includes sign in, checking the schedule, and reading at your table space. The school wide routine including a minute of quiet meditation and the Pledge of Allegiance is a positive anchor to the day too especially when it happens at the same time every day. Having a good morning routine ensures that students are reading every day and gives you a chance to welcome each child, take a look at the class as a whole, deal with any issues upfront, and do some needed administrative tasks too, tasks such as attendance, collecting field study slips/money, and following up with students on a number of issues. Our team has proposed a better schedule for the the year ahead and if that's granted, that will also help us to establish, practice, and embed a positive grade-wide routine for starting each day. 

Student rotate from class to class for specific subjects, and all in all, I believe this has been a very positive aspect of our curriculum program since it means that students have more movement, the whole grade level works as a team, and the teachers divide up the weighty curriculum expectations into manageable teaching/learning sections.

Team Days
Team days are homeroom days and they are good days to focus in on activities that the profit from deep all-in study. We generally use these days for special events, STEAM study/projects, portfolio work, and sometimes even for catch-up/clean-up.

Field Studies, Expert Visitors, and Special Events
We plan and execute a good number of field studies, expert visitors, and special events. The challenge with these events is the administrative tasks and time it takes to plan, prepare for, and manage the trips. We generally do a lot of this over the summer. This year we met with some challenge with regard to collecting all the fees and managing the payments in accurate ways--we're meeting with district business leaders to organize this system better so that our efforts are streamlined and the payments better organized from request to collection to deposits to payments.  We've decided to create a grade-level notebook to keep track of all the trips, payments, and spreadsheets. That will be one way to help. We also have a number of other questions and ideas for the business manager that we think may lead to a more streamlined process too. All that said, we truly feel that these events enrich the teaching/learning program and build a more vibrant, bright, and collaborative learning team too. So we'll persist in this area.

Curriculum Programs
We are always building and deepening our curriculum programs. The state and system are always evolving the expectations for what we do too. Therefore part of our curriculum work involves regular study, research, and share to make sure we are embedding the best ideas, research, and information into the curriculum program we teach and foster. 

Specifically the team will look closely at how we use time this summer and create a schedule that ensures we teach the main program elements including science, math, social studies, writing, and reading. We'll also look at ways that we can integrate the expectations amongst and between these disciplines to foster deep, multidisciplinary units of teaching or signature projects as we sometimes refer to them. Further we'll work with others within the system and outside of it to deepen and broaden the curriculum areas each of us leads. Specifically, I'll revisit the math, SEL, STEAM, and physical science learning streams to look for ways to improve the way we synthesize materials, learning experiences, projects, time, and assessments to foster the best possible engaging, empowering education for the children.

Contribution Beyond the Grade-Level Team
Meeting expectations and evolving the grade-level program to teach all fifth graders well is the mainstay of my work as an educator. That said, I also want to contribute to the greater school community. Next year, with a new principal, I will look for ways that I can positively contribute to the general school efforts and goals. I'll also likely continue my work on the local union board as well.

Professional Learning
I'll continue my regular practice of reading, researching, and writing every day and I'll take advantage of good learning opportunities offered by the system, state, and other organizations to continue to develop my knowledge and abilities in the areas named above.

As an individual who believes that public education is the cornerstone of our democracy, I believe we need to elect government leaders that support all public schools and all children in the state and country. I'll continue to find ways to support that belief in reading, writing, and working for that end in ways that I can. 

Within the system where I work, I will continue to advocate for positive avenues of good communication as well as teacher voice, choice, and leadership. I know that distributive leadership models when done well improve schools and that many of the problems we face in schools are because educators are invisible--their voices are not respected, their choices are not supported, and there are few opportunities for authentic leadership. To level the playing field with a more flattened hierarchy where most people working in the educational system have daily responsibility for student learning, is to better schools.

I will also advocate for looking at bettering the way we plan for and execute family/educator conferences and professional learning events.

Over the years our team has put the time in to continually evolve the teaching/learning program in ways that matter. This has resulted in happy, successful students as well as our own positive growth as professionals. Creating a short list like this helps me to end the year by preparing well for the next year. Onward.