Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Everyone likes good news

Our teaching team received some good news today and I must say that it felt good. It felt especially good when I told my parents because, like any parents, they love to hear good news.

We don't always think about the impact our good work has on those beyond the boundaries of the work, but truly, when you invest in good effort, the impact reaches beyond those boundaries to your family members, community, and more.

This is a good message for students to hear--when students think about their good work as a study that doesn't just lift them up, but lifts others up too, they may invest in their study with greater energy, effort, and a broader view of how to do their work and why they're doing it.

This perspective is also important when it comes to teamwork--when we work well, we lift the team up, and when we don't give as much or do as well, we let the team down. I think that those that play sports or participate in other kinds of goal-oriented, committed teams while they are young have an advantage over those that don't have the chance to work on good teams. To work on a good team provides great learning for the living and working ahead.

As I think more about this and the many projects ahead for our grade-level team, I think I'll discuss this topic with the students. I'll talk about the good feeling they'll have when they complete science projects, perform the fifth grade play, participate in the global cardboard challenge, and share their science projects. I'll ask them about what we might do so that everyone does a good job on their own and as a grade-level team. I'll list the attributes they share and refer to that list as we do the hard work it takes to work through the challenges that naturally arise with any big or new task.

Everyone likes good news, and when we think about that and factor that into our effort, focus, and attitude, we don't just do better for ourselves, but we lift others up too.

Stay in your lane?

I get in a lot of trouble because I often veer off of what people consider to be my lane as a classroom teacher. Why do I steer out of my lane?

I steer out my lane because my lane is affected by so many other lanes. Teaching is impacted by politics, family life, community events, administrative decisions, staff roles, and processes. If I stay in my lane, it means I have to accept what is, and sometimes that means accepting what is less than positive for my students or my work.

One example is a past experience with an annual awards event. Awards were given to students who were in school the most and who achieved in particular subject areas. Every year it seemed like the same privileged young students received the same awards while those less privileged received no awards. This awards ceremony, rather than inspiring young students, served to support the status quo. I suggested that we change the awards to awards based on students' strengths and interests to help young children hold on to something they were good at or something they had great interest in. I knew this would create a situation where the awards for young children served to inspire betterment rather than simply support the status quo. I veered out of my lane to make this suggestion. My movement to another's area of leadership was not regarded well, and the change was never made. Am I sorry that I crossed lanes. Not at all, because I know what our mission is, and I know the idea expressed would be better for our mission than the what was currently in place at the time.

We have to regard well the voices of those we work with and impact when we make decisions. We have to welcome people into our lanes of decision making, and when we do, we have to acknowledge that none of us have the monopoly on all knowledge or good decision making. Generally we do better together.

Do you stay in your lane? How is this positive and how might it not be positive? I'll be thinking more about this in the days to come.

Change and building bridges

Sometimes your role is to build a bridge between people.

I thought of this recently when presented with a situation of distance, a situation that needed a bridge. I longed for someone to build the bridge with needed information, focus, and leadership.

A similar situation I experienced long ago demanded a bridge too. In that situation, I was busy teaching and learning to the best of my ability. Then a big change was imposed on my teaching/learning program, but there was never any time to build a bridge between my busy practice and the great change. No bridge meant a less than positive transition, and much of what could have happened never happened due to a lack of a bridge.

What could have happened was the following.
  1. Acknowledging the current program strengths and needs
  2. Sharing the rationale for the imposed change--why we want to do this
  3. Meeting to discuss how the change will happen so that the positive events in place don't change, but that we make room for the new work in ways that matter. In a sense creating a bridge.
  4. Checking in on the change, continuing to bridge the efforts in ways that respect all people, protect the good work in place, and invite the new efforts in meaningful, long lasting ways.
Some people forget that good change demands good process, and that process includes bridge building. When change is imposed without good process or bridge building, it's likely that the change will bring the kind of disruption that's not positive and the kind of change that is not as good as it can be.

Who are your bridge builders? How do they build bridges between the old and the new? What do they do that's effective? 

Today's Teaching/Learning: Last Day in April 2019

From big think to daily action takes a deliberate change in focus.

Today's teaching/learning includes the following:

  • Review of fraction models and an opportunity for students practice for the upcoming grade five cumulative review math test.
  • Opportunity to engage in math tech to practice multiple skills and knowledge points.
  • Grade level professional meeting to review a long list of topics
  • Prep for upcoming science lessons
It's a busy day ahead, but not a complex day. A good day to focus on the students in front of me and colleagues around me. I like days like this. 

Do the right thing; systematic and program growth and change

As we listen to the news today, we mostly read stories of cheating, hate, violence, crimes, and accidents. We mostly hear the stories of painful, hurtful life events, and less often hear the stories of positivity and good acts. The news, in a sense, teaches us about what not to do and how to steer clear of troubles.

As I think about the many news stories I hear and read, I wonder about how we can better our teaching/learning programs to promote the best of whom we can be rather than perpetuate troubling aspects of life--how can we help our students, their families, and each other live the best possible lives.

First, since we're an elementary school, I do believe that the efforts in place to build a strong foundation of learning skills and abilities is very important. Steadfast educators day in and day out work to help student learn to read, write, understand numbers and other math concepts, and learn about science and social studies topics that build a world view. This is positive, and of course, there is work we can do in each of these areas to strengthen our teaching and students' learning.

Reading and writing instruction will continue to improve if we make sure that we stay faithful to the times we teach these topics and the many ways that educators have learned to teach these subjects well. A first priority for our teaching/learning programs is to make time for this essential study and to continue to improve our ability to teach these subjects well with timely pedagogy, resources, quality literature, and optimal opportunities to write in many ways.

The same is true for math education. Again, we have to stay faithful to our daily schedule of math education with includes multiple methods of teaching and learning math well. Educators have to continue to build their proficiency for teaching the subject and find time to come together to share ideas and promote the best of what we know and do. Further we have to build mathematical thinking and activity throughout the curriculum because when people can use math accurately to analyze, understand, and create, they are more likely to promote positive change and growth. A lack of accurate mathematical understanding often stands in the way of good work and understanding.

Social studies education in our state is meeting new standards. For a while, social studies has taken a back seat in schools and this has been harmful with regard to students' ability to understand the world past, present, and into the future with breadth and depth. Our system is beginning to look at how we might deepen social studies' education at the elementary level in ways that matter. This is a positive direction, a direction that will hopefully embrace cultural proficiency as an essential element of this work.

Our science learning and teaching has grown exponentially. Students love this study and both students and teachers are developing a greater ability to think and act with scientific understanding, process, and knowledge.

Our abilities to integrate social emotional learning strategies and knowledge has grown too, and the goal is to integrate this teaching/learning into the daily program in ways that gives students the tools and understanding they need to get along well with one another and live good lives.

Systematically we can develop our efforts by streamlining the routine tasks and efforts we engage in so we have more time and energy for the deeper, more meaningful work we do.

As I think of this focus, I am thinking about the process our grade level will use to continue to promote and develop a dynamic grade-level program. We'll likely do the following:

  1. Assess what we do that works well, and what can be improved.
  2. Prioritize our efforts and needed learning/development efforts
  3. Revisit and revise the yearly curriculum map
  4. Create a positive weekly routine
  5. Identify professional learning goals and supports
  6. Plan specific events, acquire needed materials, and prepare for the teaching ahead
  7. Meet regularly to review, revise as needed to meet the teaching/learning goals
Teaching well is a process of reviewing and revising efforts and actions to better what we do with and for the students, families, and colleagues we serve. Onward. 

Education is one way to lessen hate

Like many, I am very sad and worried about the hate crimes we hear about including the most recent Synagogue shooting. Like most people, I believe in our country's freedom to live the life you choose, practice the religion you choose, and celebrate your cultural traditions as you choose. As long as you are not harming or hurting another, I believe in the freedom to live your life and reach for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." I abhor what hate groups and hate crimes do to our country, and I believe that we can work to reduce and eliminate these crimes.

As educators, we have an important role when it comes to the early education about the many religions, cultures, traditions, and lifestyles people enjoy. I grew up in a a community that was not very diverse. Most children in my elementary school practiced a similar religion and had similar cultural identities and lifestyles. Yet via my parents nightly discussions about articles in the newspaper, television news, and school discussions and reading, I knew about and respected the many lifestyles, religions, and cultures that existed. Later as I was introduced to world history through the eyes of characters in books and real life stories, I gained greater empathy and understanding of hardships people faced related to prejudice and hate. After that the words of experts, the study of world religions, travel, and the experiences of friends and family members deepened that understanding and respect. I was fortunate to have a positive education related to people's differences and their rights to live the lives they choose. I learned early on, that people are people first, and people, for the most part, are good and deserve respect.

When I first started teaching, we spent a lot of time providing students with the opportunity to learn about the world and people near and far in many ways. At the early grades, we welcomed parents to come in to share their family traditions and celebrations. This offered students an early education about our similarities and differences. When they had the chance to join their classmates to celebrate their classmates' religious and cultural celebrations, they gained respect and interest in those traditions. As an educator, I learned a lot too from the parents who were willing to share. Also in those early years, teachers in my school invited local religious leaders from many religions to come in and speak to the students. That further educated all of us which helped to dispel prejudice and create greater community. Each grade learned about a different country too and engaged in the customs and traditions of that country. This built students' world view with engagement and positivity.

Lately, I believe, we've lost some of that rich teaching and learning, teaching and learning that helped students to develop with positive awareness of the world's diversity. Yet since that time our school has become much more diverse with students from many cultures and religions. This diversity alone is a teacher as children share their stories with one another. Though I believe it's time that we revisit our efforts to welcome all students and provide all students with a rich, positive education about the wonderful diversity our community and world holds, and the promise that diversity holds for our lives.

Good education works, in part, to lessen hate. Hate is often born out of fear and ignorance--education can lessen and work to eliminate fear and ignorance. Of course, hate is also perpetuated by mental illness and isolation too. We know that isolation and mental illness are conditions that exist in every community, and we have to work more to support people who face those conditions in positive ways. There's much to do to better lives and reduce hate. We can all contribute to this.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Next days; May 2019

We're rolling into May with lots of review--we're cleaning up the lose ends before students take a number of tests and engage in many projects. All in all it's been a good teaching year with a wonderful group of students, and now's the time to step back a bit to enjoy the accomplishments achieved and the engaging projects and activities to come.

The sting of new learning

There's often a sting that comes after new learning.

You think, Why didn't I know that before.

That's often the humbling part of learning.

In environments where new learning is embraced along with the discomfort and error it often brings, the sting is not so strong, but in environments less open to new learning, the sting is greater.

Similar to when a bee sting subsides, there is increased wisdom after the new learning. You know better how to avoid the hives that exist on your learning pursuits. This is yet one more aspect of the mostly joyous, but sometimes troubling path that new learning takes.

Good questioning supports good work

What questions support effective effort?

Here are a few:

  • What is the goal of this effort?
  • What is my role in achieving the goal?
  • What resources and supports are available?
  • What expectations exist?
  • What is the timeline related to this effort?
  • Who is in charge? Who is the point person if I have questions or need more information?

Teacher evaluations and politics

Politics definitely play a role in teacher evaluations. This is the downside of these evaluations. When your rating is based more on what you do for the evaluator rather than how you do your job, there's a problem.

How do we take the politics out of teacher evaluations?

One way is to have clear guidelines related to the evaluations. Currently the great many attributes related to the Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation system makes it easy for the system to become more political than accurate. To streamline the process with greater efficiency and focus will improve the system. Right now the way the system works takes too much time and leaves too much room for politics, popularity, and inaccuracy. If the process is streamlined it won't take away as much time from the important work of schools and learning communities.

I think that the actual attributes of the evaluation system should be streamlined to a simple checklist of what it means to reach proficiency or exceed it. I think that to simplify the actual evaluation to about 10 general categories with a checklist will help a lot. The categories for proficiency might look like this:
  1. arrives at work on time
  2. completes expected work
  3. engages in professional learning
  4. understands the expected curriculum content and skills 
  5. establishes positive professional relationships with students, colleagues, and families
  6. helps students progress in expected ways
  7. participates in professional learning opportunities to continually develop teaching/learning skill and knowledge
  8. demonstrates a professional, respectful demeanor
To exceed might include categories like this:
  1. creates and forwards new teaching/learning programs and activities
  2. leads and/or participates in new initiatives
  3. participates in additional efforts to support student teaching/learning
  4. supports teaching/learning efforts in extraordinary ways at school and elsewhere
This is a first try at thinking about how to simplify the process so that it does not become a politically motivated event or a competition with quotas for how many teachers gain an exemplary rating.

Massachusetts' attributes for optimal teaching and learning are wonderful, but the density and complexity of the system allows it to become too political and too much of a popularity contest, and that's not positive. 

Role Clarity

Issues can become muddy if we don't have role clarity. Now we know that role clarity will always have some gray areas, but in general if we understand what our role is, we have a better chance of doing a good job.

When problems occur, a first question can be, What is my role in this situation?

This happened recently when a parent reached out to me with a question related to a child's therapy. Although I was aware of the therapy, it was outside of my role and deep knowledge. I forwarded the question to people who are in charge of that, and they quickly and satisfactorily answered the question. Clear role clarity helped with that situation.

As I think about this, I realize that it's important to discuss who does what and when with any worthy initiative because if there's confusion, our collective work won't be as good if we don't clear this up right away. Role clarity is an issue that needs to be attended to regularly in schools because schools are always changing to meet the changing needs and research related to good learning and teaching.

Summer is a good time to review your role and responsibilities. Where's there's confusion, it's good to find out what the truth of the matter is. This is one more way to enrich and better collaboration and the work we do together.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sometimes we teach the areas we're weakest in best

I marveled at a friend's ability to teach reading. Her extraordinary approach inspired me more when I thought about the fact that this friend didn't learn to read until she was in her twenties. How can an individual who was such a late bloomer in reading, teach reading well?

The truth is that in many ways it's much easier to teach subjects that were challenging for you to learn than subjects that were easy for you to learn. For example, I never had too much trouble when it came to reading comprehension. While I wasn't necessarily an early reader mostly due to environmental issues, I didn't struggle with reading like some. That has made it a bit more difficult for me to teach reading as it is more difficult for me to break it down and understand the steps that children have trouble with. On the other hand, in areas that I've struggled with, areas where I've had to read a lot and practice a lot to understand, I find it much easier to teach since the learning of those topics was so memorable to me, and the struggle unforgettable.

This is similar to the recovering alcoholic who becomes the best coach and teacher to those trying to deal with their addictions. That alcoholic has been there, they know how those desiring to rid themselves of the cruel addition feel and what they can do to alleviate the curse that alcoholism is. The best teachers of any topic or subject are often the ones that had to work the hardest to learn the skill or trade--they know what it is like to be an eager learner in that arena and they understand the challenges, set-backs, and little wins that occur along the way.

So be careful before you judge a teacher's words or effort. Instead listen to their story and understand why it is they've chosen to teach a particular skill, task, or topic in a particular way. Sometimes their past struggle is their greatest teaching strength.

Recipe for facing challenges

This is a recipe for facing challenges:
  1. Take time out in a quiet, comfortable, beautiful place
  2. Get some extra rest
  3. Read about the challenge
  4. Write about the challenge
  5. Seek the counsel of those you respect
  6. Seek support
  7. Take the long view. Determine the big idea, mission, and next steps of the challenge--what really matters?
  8. Go hard on the problem, not the people.
  9. See the opportunity for betterment the problem presents
  10. Don't rush the solution
  11. Take quiet, thoughtful, positive steps in the direction of solution
  12. Use respect, care, empathy, and understanding
  13. At the end, reflect on the process, write down the resolve, and move on to the next challenge and experience. 

Don't push a person who is down already


Sometimes it's difficult to stir empathy for an individual that you see as harmful, hurtful, or standing in the way of your good work and living, yet typically if we look deeply at each other and take a step back, that empathy will come.

In general, most people act as they've been treated in life. We see that time and again in the classroom, well-loved and cared for children are much easier to teach than children who have been mistreated and uncared for. In fact, those well-loved and cared for children often have more to give the teacher than the teacher has for them. Typically love snowballs through the generations--one loving family begets another loving family--love is catchy in a positive way.

I often tell students who come from more challenging situations that they can build a life that includes the good they see around them, and that they don't have to repeat the challenges they experience in their life, a life they'll create for themselves and their loved ones in the future. I say the same to my own children. Sometimes I'll relay to my children why our family faces a certain challenge, and then I'll tell them that they don't have to repeat that challenge in their own life by making different choices. These challenges aren't always harmful or hateful challenges, but challenges that lessen the richness or strength of living.

People carry all kinds of challenges and those challenges are born in generations close and generations past. For example cultures who have faced great prejudice and violence hand down those stories and experiences to their children and children's children which creates an awareness and readiness to deal with such hardship if that occurs again. Similarly people pass down the good they've learned and experienced too--a love of learning, reading, poetry, dance, outdoor exploration, family traditions, and more are handed down from one generation to the next serving to enrich lives and create positive experiences.

So as we deal with people and the many ways they present themselves to us, we have to recognize that one person is a the collection of many people and many experiences past and present. They are the sum of their strengths and challenges, talents and shortcomings, riches and poverty. Everyone has a story to tell, and if we make time to hear those stories, we build greater empathy, respect, and awareness of whom that person is, why they act the way they act, and how we can best support them in their lives.

Those little children we teach each day are also the collection of family, friends, and community members past and present. They are their neighborhoods, family strengths/challenges, history, culture, dreams, and wants. The more we see the children fully, the better we will be able to connect with them and teach them well. When dealing with challenging situations, it's clearly important to think about the people involved with empathy and care, and go hard on the problems, but not the people. The more empathy we gather, the better we'll be able to do that. Onward.

Reduce Gun Violence

Our country is not taking gun violence seriously.

Those that believe this issue should be looked at through a public health lens are right--it is a public health issue.

We can solve this issue in the following ways:
  • Reducing, restricting, and regulating gun use. To use car registration and use as a model is a good idea.
  • Looking deeply at what makes people act with violence against innocents, and working on changing conditions that lead to gun violence. The breakdown of community supports with regard to health care, quality schools, clean environments, positive infrastructure, recreation opportunities, and nature spaces are part of the problem.
  • Choosing leadership that is not bigoted, hateful, prejudiced, and self serving will help--good leaders promote the best of whom we can be. Two-faced Trump adds to cultural dismay, violence, and hate--we need better leadership.
  • Promoting greater equity and care amongst people rather than hate and disharmony. 
  • Not investing in companies or individuals that promote irresponsible gun ownership or use. We should all look at who our mutual funds, 401K's, and other investments support and make sure we are not supporting these errant companies or individuals. 
We can do better with regard to the terrible violence we witness against innocents. Yet, to do this, we have to make a commitment to support measures that lessen this awful violence. This is possible. 

Teaching well; a positive routine

Every teacher knows that a positive routine saves time, supports students, and makes time for the deep learning possible. The challenge in a good routine is that what we teach, the way we teach, and our expectations change from year to year therefore that routine needs to be updated regularly too.

The end of the school year is a good time to think about next year's routines because it's a good time to think about what worked and what did not work during the current school year. As I think about this, I want to promote the following school routines next year.

Extra help sessions
This morning extra help sessions were very positive this year, and although our school day will be starting earlier, I will offer a coupe of mornings next year from 7:15-7:45 from October to April vacation. I also hope to offer one extra help session next year on Monday afternoons for selected students, and I hope to have the help of seniors for this event. I hope to begin this extra help session in October too.

Morning routine
Most teachers know that establishing, practicing, and sticking with a good morning routine builds leads to a positive start for all students every morning. The morning routine this year worked well so next year's routine will be mostly the same.
  • Hang up your coat and bag
  • Read the schedule
  • Sign in
  • Pass in needed paperwork. I would like to order some magnetic paper holders for students to pass in important papers. 
  • Get your supplies
  • Read quietly at your desk
  • The Pledge and mindful moment (attendance during mindful moment)
  • Lesson starts
To support this routine, I want to order magnetic book holders to position around the room so students can quickly access their books, and I can quickly see what everyone is reading each day. The morning routine is a good time to catch up with students too. 

Math Lesson Routine
  • Get your supply bag/materials
  • Focus lesson
  • Active learning time
  • Learning share
  • Put away your supplies
  • Final thoughts
Science Lesson Routine
  • Bring your science notebook
  • Lesson focus
  • Gather supplies, engage in exploration, activity, and/or experiment
  • Clean up/share
  • Final thoughts
These are simple to use supply caddies that
help with class clean up and organization.
As I think about bot math and science lessons, I want to build in better routines for student share at the end of lessons. That's an area of teaching/learning I'll share next year.

Lit Mix
During September we will practice Lit Mix which is a time that most students read on their own. The challenge with Lit Mix is that teachers are typically meeting with small groups in a corner of the classroom while others read. Students will choose reading spaces and then be expected to read quietly in those spaces. At the start of the year we'll discuss what makes a good place to read without interruption. I'll also set up a corner of the room to meet with a reading group and make sure I have the needed materials there and that I can see the rest of the class too.

Clean up
As I often write about, the more that the classroom can have a place for everything, the better students can utilize the classroom and the materials to their advantage. I'll work with students to do a good clean up in June creating areas for typical supplies, math materials, science materials, and paperwork.

A good lunch cart makes collecting and bringing the lunches to the lunch room easy. I metal basket with wheels works best since little things fall out and don't collect at the bottom of the bin. 

These are sturdy comfy chairs that have been a nice
addition tot he classroom.
Class Meetings
We have a cozy area in the class with comfy chairs and rugs that makes a good class meeting space--that's worked well this year, and that will continue. Students also share a comfy chair so they take turns sitting in that chair or sitting on another classroom seat or the rug. The comfy chairs tend to hug the students which relaxes them and makes the classroom more welcoming and comfortable. 

End of day routines
At the end of the day, students clean up, stack chairs, pack their bags, and if they do that in good time, they typically have about five to ten minutes to play outside before they board their busses. The "carrot" of play typically supports a quick clean-up.

Personal professional routine
It's helpful for educators to create a good home-school routine prior to the start of school making sure that you have an afternoon or two for meetings and special events and the time needed for personal activities too.

I don't have a lot of jobs for the students because everyone helps out with all jobs. But one job that worked well was "Leader of the Week" and I will continue that next year.

Weekly Routine
Creating a solid weekly routine helps students and teachers to accomplish all that they hope to accomplish in a week's time. Our weekly routine includes the following:
  • Daily reading/organization time (tier three reading is connected to this)
  • Daily math, reading, writing times
  • Science one to two times a week
  • Social studies one to two times a week
  • Class meeting and social-emotional learning time - about once a week
  • Math mix - twice a week for 30 minutes each
  • Lit mix - twice a week for 45 minutes each 
  • Student service meetings - once a week
  • Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting - once a week
  • Grade-level team meeting - about once a week and additional times as needed
Monthly Routine
  • Faculty meeting once a month, eight months out of the year
  • Review of field trip books, finances
Yearly Routine
  • September: Team building, introductions, practice routines, goal setting, assessments, surveys, portfolio set-up, fall parent conferences begin at the end of the month
  • October- December: Learning routines put in place, revised as needed
  • January - April: Assessments, portfolios, progress reports, parent conferences, learning routines continue
  • April - June: academic review, MCAS, fifth grade play, biography project, STEAM projects, and other special events. Prep for the next year of learning.
Putting good routines in place helps you to achieve the goals you set for the teaching/learning year. My overarching goals include the following:
  • Meeting systemwide expectations 
  • Developing and carrying out a dynamic teaching/learning program for and with students
  • Standards-based, engaging, successful math, science, and reading teaching/learning
  • A warm and welcoming classroom environment that puts students at the center of all we do
  • Optimal grade-level and school-wide collegiality and collaboration
  • Participation and support of local union efforts
  • Ongoing professional reading, research, study, and updating of teaching/learning program and events on my own and with collegial, parent, and student teams. 

Good record keeping saves time and money

Recently I was charged a great amount of money for a routine medical procedure. I was surprised by this big bill, and made some inquiries. My health insurance provider said that the bill was erroneous and I should not pay it, but I should follow up with the medical provider about the error in the bill. About four months later including a large number of phone calls, paperwork, and time, the bill was finally dismissed. I learned a valuable lesson which is that consumers need to do the research prior to any medical procedure--consumers have to find out what's covered and what's not, then make good choices about their health care and health dollars. As consumers, we also have to keep track of our medical records online and via paper files so we can easily look back at what occurred and make our case when there's errors in billing.

Similarly recent field trip issues tool countless hours to unravel a large number of glitches which compromised payment balances--most of the glitches were issues we had not considered while planning the trips including tripships not requested, children traveling, changing class numbers, differences between quotes and actual fees, and online payment glitches. There were also the usual elements of human error and the need to remind people to pay. All in all, we realized that better record keeping would have reduced the amount of time it took to figure out the problem--from now on we'll keep a copy of all records related to field trips in one place so we can go back and review that paperwork should there be an issue.

Good record keeping matters in this complex society we live in. Good record keeping can reduce your taxes, errors in billing, and the time it takes to order supplies, pay bills, make appointments and more.

In the week ahead at school and at home, I'll make some time for this filing issue by making a good space in the classroom and at home for these important files. Over the summer I'll give this some good thought too. This will save time, struggle, and money too.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


When you imagine who you hope to be in the days ahead, what metaphor speaks to you?

As you think of that metaphor, what is it about the color, shape, size, spirit, movement of that metaphor that speaks to you?

How will you represent that metaphor publicly or secretly to remind you of whom you hope to be, what you want to do, and where you will go?

In our very boisterous world of words, sounds, people, it might be nice to keep that symbol close at hand to view in real time not somewhere hidden in text or on a computer, but perhaps a small sculpture, piece of jewelry, or drawing you can view whenever you want to.

Metaphors strongly represent for us what we want to be, and choosing your metaphor demands good time and thought.

The Challenge of Change and New Ideas

Change and new ideas often result in disruption. Typically when there's a team approach and good process that goes along with that innovation, there is less disruption.

Today as I thought back to times of utter frustration and challenge at school, those were times when change and new ideas were occurring. At one time, it was the beginning of a new school configuration. Another time included embedding new technology and new projects. Each time there was disruption that resulted in stress and frustration.

I researched this a bit today and came across this article from Harvard Business School which was helpful. I found the article helpful because it provides one lens for inviting and supporting innovation--a lens that could be altered to fit school culture.

Generally I like to jump into new ideas, and not unlike the result of a child's cannon ball into a pool that tends to create a big splash which similar to relaxed sunbathers along the pool's edge is generally not welcome by people in organizations who are comfortable with current routines, organization, and structure. Along with that splash there generally comes resistance and some backlash too. It's uncomfortable, so why let it happen?

I generally jump into new ideas because my research, experience, and intuition tell me that the idea has merit and will better the work I'm able to do with and for the students I teach. I also know that it's impossible to truly understand what an idea will bring unless I try it out--testing the idea informs me quickly about the idea's merits and need for revision and development. And when faced with cultures that may not be enthusiastic about innovation or new ideas, there's a need to go it alone or with a few others to make a difference. While forging ahead with only a few others with new ideas is not always welcome, the desire to do that comes from the promise the new idea holds for student learning, engagement, and growth. If a new idea better teaches and engages students in worthy learning efforts, that's going to motivate innovative and dedicated educators to try it out.

I'm wondering, however, if it might be a good idea to consider the result of a new idea's impact on the greater teaching/learning environment prior to trying out the new idea, and then letting that reflection inform how you will organize the new idea. For example when students began podcasting several years ago, there were many elements to the project I had not thought about, elements that taxed the system in ways that created disruption. While the project was deep, meaningful, standards-based, and effective, it was also uncomfortable for some who were involved in it. I had not considered that aspect of the project, and the disruption it would cause. What would have been a better approach?

I think that a better approach would be for systems to consider innovation in holistic, inclusive ways. Rather than solely a top-down or bottom-up approach, innovation should be seen as a collaborative endeavor that mixed administrative and educator teams consider at the start of each year with questions such as these:
  • What do we see as our strengths and successes in our educational program?
  • What do we see as our weaknesses or needs in the educational program?
  • What ideas do we have for change and innovation? What is the rationale for those ideas?
  • As a team what do we want to change and develop this year and why?
  • What is our success criteria for the innovations we're going to try out, and what is our path to achieving that success criteria?
  • What are individual's roles in this innovation?
  • Who will the innovation impact, and how can we engage them in the process in positive ways?
  • How might we mitigate the discomfort this innovation might bring to our school, staff, students, and families? 
  • What promise does this innovation hold and how can we relay that potential to all involved?
In organizations that embrace an inclusive and collaborative attitude and process towards worthy, timely innovation, development, and growth, there is great potential for positive and even harmonious change and innovation. 

As I think back to the challenging disruption related to new ideas and innovation I've encountered in the past, I believe that's been the result of little systemwide support for those innovations or for inclusive innovation in general as well as my own "cannon ball" style of making change. To employ a more collaborative open, yet systematic, approach to innovation and change may foster greater teamwork while still respecting individual ideas and drive for betterment. 


Sometimes what's needed most is words of encouragement. This is especially true for demanding jobs like teaching and parenting. What words of encouragement really matter?
  • I appreciate the extra effort you put into that activity as it really made a difference for the children.
  • We hit some roadblocks this time, but we learned a lot. I'm sure it will go a lot smoother next time.
  • Come on, it's the first time we've tried this, of course it's not going to be perfect, but just think about the progress we've made just giving it a try.
  • No worries--we all get upset sometimes. It's not an easy job.
  • How can I help?
  • What can we do to make this better?
  • Everyone is doing their best? That's what's most important. I'm sure that if we take the time to work well together, we'll even do better next time.
  • You bring essential gifts to this community.
  • Don't forget to celebrate the small wins--it's those small wins that add up to a meaningful effect.
  • Take some time for yourself, no one can be all things all the time--everyone needs a little personal time and time to replenish their energy, enthusiasm, and drive.
  • Let's see how we can streamline this activity so that everyone has a role, and we complete the task with same or better quality with greater efficiency
  • What process will help us to complete this work with good result; how can we all contribute.
  • While none of us are necessarily the best, we all bring value to this community.
  • Keep track of your good work, and honor that. 
  • Spread the good news.
  • Notice the small acts of kindness, support, and care that occur daily.
  • Express gratitude.
  • Spread small acts of kindness to energize people's spirit.
  • Play to your strengths.
  • Partner with good people.
  • Give yourself time.
  • Go hard on the problem, not the people.
  • Take time out when you need it. 
  • Create a warm, welcoming environment to live and work in daily.
  • Treat yourself once in a while. 
  • Don't disregard self care.
  • Follow a positive routine.
  • You're not superhuman.
  • When you play the compare game, no one wins.
  • Together we are better.
  • Honesty and transparency build strong teams.
  • Every stage has its strengths and unique qualities.
  • Celebrate the good times.
  • Keep your focus on a positive goal and lifestyle.
  • Be gracious and respectful.
  • Will to support one another, not harm one another
  • Make time to stop to wonder, appreciate, and enjoy the people, places, and events that make up your days.
  • Don't be afraid to ask, reach out, or seek guidance when needed.
  • None of us have it all, but each of us has a set of unique gifts, people, places, and events to be grateful for and to share with others.
  • Do your best and get sufficient rest. 

Coaching myself forward: the last leg of the school year

I'm reaching deep this morning to gain good energy and focus for the final leg of the school year. I'm reaching to gain a positive focus for these final weeks, a focus that steers me towards the children and grade-level program and a focus that moves me away from the extraneous, organizational events that bring you down, dampen your spirit, and deplete your energy.

What do the children need? This is a question that helps me to gain good focus. I really care for each and every child at our grade-level, and it brings me great joy to work with my colleagues to serve them well. This is the center of my work as an educator. Too often organizational issues that have little to do with the children's needs and interests pull us away from that focus. We have to watch out for the drain that can be, and one way to do that is to redirect our energy fully to the children.

With that in mind, I want to focus on the question: What do the children need? I'll keep this list handy in the days ahead.

Math test prep and success
Students will take a big test this week. We'll review for the test early in the week using a variety of exercises. Then I'll share apt test strategy with them and support their successful test taking and accommodations.

Biography project
Students need time to read their biographies, take notes, ask questions, and get help. We'll make time for that.

Play practice
Students need support during play practice--we'll take the music teacher's lead and support her efforts to direct the play with all the fifth grade students.

STEAM Survival Series
Students need to be prepared and have the supplies to create three STEAM projects in ways that give them experience with hands-on exploration, the engineering/design process, and related science standards.

Science test prep
Students will need support as they create slide shows and play related science games as they prepare for the science MCAS.

Field Trips
We'll be there to support students' fun, exploration, and learning during a couple of upcoming field studies.

Climate change projects
We'll help students complete their climate change projects and make a grade-level movie about the climate change efforts. Students will share the movie with the whole school at a June Assembly.

Global Cardboard Challenge
Students will need support with regard to learning about and creating their Global Cardboard Challenge Arcade games for our school Global Cardboard Challenge playground celebration.

Middle School Transition
Students will have the chance to visit the Middle School and we'll also host Middle School teachers at our school. We can support this transition by answering students' questions, reassuring them about a successful transition, and doing the work needed to prepare for a successful transition.

Sexual Abuse Awareness
Students will view the sexual abuse awareness program and we'll be there to answer questions and support their learning. This is a valuable program run by our guidance department that helps to keep students informed and safe.

Changing bodies lessons
Students will view films and discuss changing bodies and puberty via a number of thoughtful presentations. Parents will have a chance to preview materials prior to the presentation and opt their children out of the program if they choose.

Field Day fun
We'll be there to have fun with and support students at our annual Field Day celebration.

Fifth Grade Fun Day
We'll have a day to celebrate students k-5 experience at a special fun day, slideshow, and clap-out.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The year's choreography

How we choreograph the teaching year matters, and now that we're at the end chapter of the year, it's good to look back at how the year rolls out. To do this helps teachers to use their energy well.

  • introductions to one another
  • enjoyable, light, and accessible early activities
  • discussion about respect, good manners, and expected behaviors with and towards one another
  • discussion about bias, racism, labels, inclusion--building a respectful community
  • paperwork
  • team building
  • assessments
  • introduction to learning routines
October - December
  • goal setting/reflections
  • family-student-teacher fall conferences
  • Curriculum routines in place
January - early April
  • mid-year assessments
  • more reflection
  • progress reports
  • re-calibration of the year's efforts as informed by reflections, assessments
  • family-student-teacher late winter conferences
April - June
  • state/systemwide tests
  • auction efforts
  • STEAM 
  • biography project - Global Changemakers
  • End-of-year celebratory events
  • Prep and introductions to next year's program.

Math routines that matter

Yesterday as I pushed students a bit out of their comfort zones in math, I thought about daily, weekly, and year routines that matter--the kinds of routines that ensure that most of math class is spent in meaningful learning endeavor.

Yearly Routines and Focus
We are a math team that knows everyone is capable of learning math, and when it comes to optimal learning our attitudes, questions, collaboration, perseverance, and connection making matters. 
  1. Have students create a math learning supply bag before the start of school.
  2. Give students an optional summer study packet that reviews the factors and multiples of numbers 1-100.
  3. Start the year with a focus on apt math attitude, teamwork, and the knowledge that everyone is capable of learning math.
  4. Give a few assessments to gain a baseline of students' current knowledge, skill, and attitude.
  5. Establish extra-help times, days (October)
  6. Review easy numbers by introducing and teaching students to use a number of math online and offline tools/practice sites, model making skills, and games.
  7. Teach each unit with a focus on exploration, project based learning, explicit instruction, practice, assessment, more practice, and a performance assessment.
  8. Assess periodically.
  9. Take yearly tests in spring. (Extra help sessions end at April break)
  10. Integrate end-of-year teaching into STEAM projects.
  11. Summer assessment of student/teacher efforts, successes, and need for revision.
Unit Routines (About one unit a month)
  1. Explore the topic via a number of investigations and/or projects.
  2. Explicit instruction - about 15-20 minutes at the start of each class.
  3. Practice via a large range or online and offline tasks with a range of grouping from independent work to partners and teams of three or more.
  4. Performance assessments, argument, and share - a chance for math talk and presentation.
  5. Assessments/Reflections
Daily Routine
  1. Get your supplies and needed materials from your math drawer.
  2. Listen to the ten-to-twenty minute explicit instruction.
  3. Engage in hands-on learning efforts.
  4. Lesson ending, clean-up, final share (last five minutes)
A quick assessment of this year's efforts leads me to the following summer efforts:
  • Organize all learning tools & materials on the grade-level math website and in the class cabinets.
  • Organize an order of teaching for each unit.
  • Review project based learning activities and build in a few more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Every test has a just-right strategy

When I was young and took an SAT test, I didn't know that every test has optimal strategies for positive results. Later when I taught an SAT prep course, I learned a lot of those strategies. Had I known those strategies as a high school student, I'm sure that my SAT scores would have been better. With that in mind, I think we advantage our students when we share with them the optimal strategies for doing well on tests. To do that, we have to know the test, the test rules, and what has worked well for students in the past.

As students prepare for a number of tests, I know that these general rules of preparation work:
  • Get good rest, eat nutritious meals 
  • Use positive self talk, and do your best
As a teacher, I know it's important to follow the testing rules related to the tests you give. In general, once the tests begin, your only option is to deal with technical snafus and the questions you're allowed to answer, but in general you simply proctor the tests making sure that children are doing their work, following the test directions, and not interrupting or talking to classmates.

Prior to giving the tests though, we can give students the opportunity to take practice tests and we can remind students of the strategies that have led to success for students in the past. With this in mind, I made a couple of posters that I'll use to remind students of apt strategy to help them do their best. Let me know if you have anything to add to these strategy posters.

Collaboration Adds Capacity: Shared Teaching

Several years ago teachers at fifth grade proposed a three-way shared teaching model. The model was approved, and as I've noted before, it's the best teaching model that I've experienced during my 33-year career as a teacher. I wonder why this model has not gained more traction in schools across the country.

Less isolation
There are many reasons why this shared teaching model works so well. First, the model has taken away the isolation that I felt with the one-teacher-one-classroom model. Now I have colleagues to regularly check in with, support, and work with to teach students well.

Greater capacity
This model also builds our capacity to teach well since we're always sharing ideas, contributing our strengths, and support each others' best work with students. We consider the grade five students to be all of our students, and we work together to teach every student well.

Deeper, better, and more timely teaching
And, we can go deeper with each subject since each of us specializes in particular subjects, projects, and special events. By specializing we have more time to read the books, attend the conferences, and consider the new research related to these areas.

Encouragement and support
We meet regularly, keep a common planning document, and support one another's efforts continually. PLCs, student service meetings, grade-level days, and shared planning periods gives us ample time to meet.

Streamlines and betters management efforts
The shared model creates a better management model for schools too since administrators can work with us as a team rather than individual teachers--they can expect our team to lead much of what we do then check in or meet with us for specific issues or initiatives.

Modeling effective teamwork
In our our populated, highly connected world, the need for collaboration is critical. When teachers work as successful teams, we model good collaboration and teamwork for our students. This is positive for our young students who will likely have to be successful team members throughout their lives.

Greater teaming, shared teaching, and collaborative leadership at the elementary level is advantageous--it's a model that holds great potential for bettering what we can do for and with students.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

An Eye on the Future: Focus

I'm fortunate to be in a position that provides me with great leaders for my future work and focus.David Culberhouse is an educational futurist that I look to to help me for that focus. The state of Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is also doing some great work in this regard, and of course, many other members of my wonderful real time and online PLN are filling me with ideas, questions, and challenges regularly to right my teaching/learning ship.

I like to have a good map for future endeavor. When I'm doing the routine work, I like to be thinking about how that works connects to the bigger picture and the questions I'm pursuing as a teacher. So at the end of a morning of big think, I'm once again mapping the direction where I'm headed.

Solidifying and Enriching the Math Program
This summer I'll collect all of my math program pieces and put them together on my Magnificent Math Website to guide my future teaching and learning in math. I'll also read Routines for Reasoning as one way to deepen my ability to foster deeper math talk, think, and share. Further I'll assess the work to date to determine with a focus on what's really been enriching and wonderful teaching, and what can be retired. I've also ordered Jo Boaler's new book, Limitless Mind, which I'll read at the start of the school year next year.

Solidifying and Developing the Science Program
Our team has taught a lot of science this year. I want to make time to bring all those pieces together in one website that will guide the teaching ahead. I also want to embed the computational thinking science unit for fifth grade into our STEAM plant packets unit. Further I'll assess the work we've done to date to see how we might develop the program more in the year to come. While I'm tempted to take a science course, I think that we have a lot of information to work with now and it's a matter of organizing that information into engaging, meaningful units of study.

Building a Nurturing, Respectful, Confident, Engaged, and Happy Learning Community
Again we have lots and lots of resources for this, and I want to focus on synthesizing those resources and integrating them into the year in meaningful ways.

These efforts will take time and result in three rich go-to websites that capsulate the best we have to offer for fifth grade at this time. Then next year I can think about how we'll develop this further to account for the ever shifting and changing landscape of education and the world we live in.

Computational Thinking; Algorithmic Thinking

I've been teaching a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary (DESE) Computational Thinking unit related to fraction multiplication. As with every new unit, I'm bumbling a bit as I introduce the unit in a systematic way, yet I can definitely see the value of this new teaching focus and the way it is affecting my own perspective with regard to navigating the world around me.

As I teach this unit, I am aware of the many related positive challenges ahead:
To develop learning/teaching programs in ways that help students to navigate their world today and into the future well is a terrific focus that keeps one invested and engaged in education--the focus on computational thinking will work well for me in this regard. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Back on track

It takes about five minutes in school to get back on track. When you work with young children, there's no time to hang out by a water cooler or find yourself lost in your thoughts. They demand your attention right away.

Mondays, as I've mentioned before, are the most challenging day. But that said, I did introduce the computational thinking fraction lesson which was met with some challenge and some surprising strengths too. I'm looking forward to extending this lesson in the days ahead in ways that challenge students to think about all ways that they can compute with fractions using pictures, numbers, and words. I'll be interested to see what they come up.

We're tapering a bit too as we ready for the big tests ahead. Though today was a bit dry and unfriendly, now that the introduction for the unit is done, the days ahead will be more friendly, deep, and positive teaching/learning days in math. Onward.

When is racism ignorance?

A brave child reported a racist comment.

I spoke to the child who expressed the hateful words. It was obvious that she didn't know what she was talking about.

I congratulated the child who spoke up, and I educated the child who had expressed the harmful words.

Sometimes prejudice and racism is the product of ignorance, and when this occurs a little education goes a long way.

Room Re-Do

It's time for another room makeover. With every leg of the school year, the classroom morphs and changes to accommodate the latest teaching focus.

At this time of year it's time to update the teaching/learning environment by doing the following:

  • creating inside/outside planting stations
  • review the book collection and moving it to a space away from the planting station
  • buying and/or finding some chairs for the outdoor classroom area.
  • organizing testing space for state tests and taking down posters and other materials not allowed during tests
  • collecting recyclables for upcoming STEAM projects and global cardboard challenge
  • recycling or putting away materials no longer needed for the final leg of the school year.
Each new leg of the year begins with both excitement and trepidation. Excitement related to the new learning to come, and trepidation with the question, "Will we have the time and capacity we need to teach and learn the new material well?" 

Room re-design is a part of the teaching/learning menu--one that helps to foster a welcoming, supportive, and engaging environment for both learning and teaching. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Rethinking the road ahead; what calls me

As I think about the week ahead refreshed after a week's vacation, I'm realizing that some of what I've worked for in the past is a right direction, and some of what I've tried to work for is best left at the side of the life road.

A Welcoming Home
When you continually fail at some initiatives, it may be that those are initiatives that don't belong to you--efforts that are other than a truthful direction for who you are and 'what you are. As I think about that today, I realize that a right direction for me is a welcoming home--I want to continually create a home that's inviting, a haven for family/friend gatherings, study, writing, thought, prayer, and living well. This is a goal that calls me. Will I always live in this home? I'm not sure about that, but I do know that creating a welcoming home takes focus and practice, and it doesn't matter where you live or where you might move since the welcoming home skills and mindset is transferable.

Top-Notch Grade Level Program at School
I also know that I'm motivated to work with colleagues to develop a top-notch grade level learning program and environment, a place where children feel welcome and a place where children are enthusiastic and excited about developing their knowledge, skill, concept, mindset, and collaboration related to all kinds of academic and social-emotional interests, needs, goals, and standards.

Simple, Adventurous, Reflective Life
Living a simple life continues to call me too with the motto, less things, more time. Time is a treasured commodity for me, and there's few things that bring me the same satisfaction as time. Adventure, research, investigation, reflection, and analysis call me too--I love to see new places, meet new people, learn about new ideas, and think about the ways we can live life well, work together, create, and enjoy life.

Good People
I love surrounding myself with good people in beautiful, warm, and loving spaces. Those spaces may include nature preserves, mountains, lakes, beaches, homes, museums, cities, towns, and almost anywhere that offers engaging activity, exploration, and places to connect, tell stories, and encourage one another. The world is full of amazing people, and I enjoy spending time with those people and learning all about their lives and pursuits. Even in entertainment, I prefer shows, books, and experiences that introduce me to good people rather than entertainment focused on negative, hurtful action and events.

There are other areas of life that I am intrigued by, areas of life that friends and family members commit to with strength and dedication, but in truth, those areas of life don't call me the same way--I don't really want to commit time and energy to those areas of life--they're not who I am, and or who I want to be most. I can enjoy these areas of life via the investment that friends and family members make. I can encourage their good work and involvement in these areas of life and live those areas of life vicariously via my friends and family members' stories and experiences.

Our diversity as a people is always amazing to me--the ways we are called to be and live differs so much amongst us. By embracing the differences via connection, storytelling, encouragement, support, and shared times, we live fuller lives--lives that help us to follow our unique paths and lives that allow us to be more by embracing others' unique paths as well.

Tomorrow: April 22, 2019

Tomorrow will be our first day back to school after the vacation. As has become a tradition at our school, the first day back will begin with an engaging cultural enrichment event. That's a great way to wake students up and welcome them back.

After that there will be some time for play and vacation storytelling. Then we'll begin our new computational thinking math unit with a focus on in/out function machines/tables, a review of computational vocabulary, and exercises that teach students how to use these function machines.

Later in the day students will have gym and meet with their small reading groups. Many reading groups will focus on students' biography reading and research. After school there will be some time to begin the planting plan I have for home and school.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Learning Synthesis: Meeting Academic Expectations Under Engaging Umbrella Themes

Over the past few years our science program at grade five has grown significantly. This year students are engaged in a number of hands-on investigations related to state science standards, an environmental studies program focused on state standards and climate change, and a series of STEAM projects focused on engineering and design. This is a worthy, engaging series of learning events that are creating positive reach for both students and teachers.

Recently the amazing survival of two little girls in California prompted me to think about a new way that we can synthesize our STEAM projects under the engaging umbrella of survival. Many people including students love to play survival games, read survival stories, and watch survival videos and movies.

So in the next few weeks students will engage in a number of survival-related activities including a local hike and creating water filters, solar ovens, and plant packets. The activities embed state standards and science, tech, and engineering design process. I'm sure students will be excited about this STEAM synthesis, a series of learning experience that will be engaging, collaborative, and rich with regard to student interest and academic expectations.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Dinner Date Disaster

We met and exchanged a number of wonderful stories about our families, friends, work, and recreation. These are good people that I've spent a lifetime exchanging stories, encouragement, and support with. But when the conversation turned to President Trump and his actions, the conversation went sour. A friend who supports Trump spoke in favor of him, and my initial reaction was so strong and visceral that I could not continue the dinner date. I was surprised myself that I had such a strong reaction and I've been thinking about it ever since.

Trump lies, exaggerates, shames and blames
The reaction comes from a place in me that honors justice, truth, and commitment to others. Trump's lies, disrespect, exaggeration, shaming and blaming have been like a knife inserted into me time and again. When I hear him make fun of good people regularly, it hurts, and it hurts because I know that these people, while not perfect, have committed dedicated time to our country over years--they've sacrificed time, dollars, and effort to do what is right and good for the people putting country and/or people before their own needs and desires. I'm sure their families have sacrificed a lot as well.

Trump does not support public education
When I see Trump filling the post of Secretary of Education with the sister of one of his big donors, a person who seemingly has no commitment to or experience with public education, I know that our President disregards what I do as a teacher day in and day out. I realize that he is not supporting what I believe in which is that public schools are a cornerstone of our great country, and if we adequately fund and support public schools, we will support a strong future for all Americans, a future that reaches for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. Instead Trump demeans and doesn't support teachers everywhere by putting an opponent of public education and an inexperienced educator at the helm. This is very disrespectful and creates roadblocks to our good work as educators rather than supporting us.

Trump raises taxes for everyday people while increasing the riches of wealthy people and corporations
When Trump gives a tax break to the very richest Americans and corporations at the expense of everyday people, he essentially deletes our voices from public issues and expenditures. Money is power, and when he fattens the coffers of a few, he gives them more power and voice. Also when he burdens everyday people with greater taxes, far more than their share, he lessens our voice and power simply because we have to work a lot more and a lot harder to educate, feed, house, and provide healthcare for our loved ones and selves.

Trump is passive and complicit in the face of hate, prejudice and criminal behavior
When Trump stands silent in the face of prejudice, hate, and criminal behavior such as with Charlottesville and the Russian impact on our elections, he nods in favor of such acts. Had he spoke up against Charlottesville right away and even better, if he had stood with those protesting against the hateful White Nationalist movement, he would have sent a strong message against racism and hate, and he would have saved Heather Heyer. Had he listened to our FBI with regard to Russia's impact on our elections and acted right away against it, he would have put us on a path to negating such influence by foreign powers over our democracy right away. Instead his silence has made this situation more problematic and in dire need of new policies and laws to protect our government from such acts. Trump's passivity and possible support in the face of prejudice, hate, and criminal behavior is a problem that strikes hard to those who work day in and day out to uplift our country and its people in ways that are proven to be positive.

Trump has a history of disrespect towards women
Trump's words and behaviors about women also strike hard at women like me who have faced prejudice and lack of opportunity because of my gender since my earliest days. To hear that the President has mistreated women is painful and hurtful.

Trump chooses cronies and family members over the best and brightest
The fact that Trump surrounds himself with family and cronies that look like him rather than reaching out to surround himself with the best and brightest Americans from all walks of life is also a painful fact. I know the power of diverse voices and I know the potential that people who have dedicated their lives to good knowledge and good work hold for our country. To simply choose people based on how much money they give, favors they've done, popularity, or the fact that they look like you weakens our country in significant ways.

My friend is a good person. She has been an example of good living to me in so many ways, ways I've drawn strength from time and again as I raise my children, take care of my parents, enjoy my marriage, take care of my home, explore the country, and engage in the arts. It's clear we can't talk about politics now as President Trump is an affront to everything I believe in and everything I have committed my days to throughout my life. He harms the good country we live in and has set precedents that work against the United States Constitution and good living for all people. I do not support Trump in any way, but I do love my friend and won't let this political divide put an end to that.

Don't get sucked into a black hole

"I won't ever let you . . . .," the individual threatened, "if you don't. . . ."

I responded, "Are you threatening me?" That changed the conversation.

We have to be wary about being sucked into black holes of professional misconduct, and we can't create those black holes of disrespect or misdeeds either.

Fear is often a factor that creates a domino effect of poor behavior or effort. People are afraid to speak up, question, or tell the truth, and as we all know, one bad deed leads to another eventually creating a mess that's far greater to deal with than the initial problem.

We can all help one another by staying truthful, respectful, ethical, empathetic, helpful, and compassionate too.

The path ahead: Spring 2019

In many ways educators coach themselves ahead. This happens mostly because of the busyness that is school--there are many people to serve, and time is scarce to do the good coaching for one another. I think there's lots of room for improvement including efforts such as these:
  • Re-looking at and revising school roles, structure, and routines
  • Making expectations more explicit, reasonable, and matched to overall objectives
  • Greater distributive leadership and inclusive vision setting
  • Establishing and promoting schools as learning communities where educators, families, students, administrators, and community members play vital roles in doable ways
That said, I want to focus on my role in the days ahead and what that means for the good work possible.

Math Program
Students will engage in a state-created unit on fractions and computational thinking. It's a well-vetted and created unit that I'm excited to teach. After that they'll review for a systemwide test, then take that test, another systemwide assessment, and MCAS tests. I'll teach them the strategies that will help them do their best and encourage them to do their best on these assessments. I'll later analyze their performance and results looking for where the program hit the mark this year and where we can do better next year.

Students will embark on their Survival STEAM Series which is a number of STEAM learning experiences that involve making water filters, solar ovens, and plant packets. I'll connect this work to survival which fits nicely with many recent news stories, the book Hatchet which many students are reading, and students' natural curiosity and interest about what it means to survive on their own. During these learning experiences students will use multiple materials to apply the science, tech, and engineering standards to design, create, test, and revise their efforts.

Fifth Grade Play
I'll support the music teachers' and students' efforts for this wonderful grade-level performance--a performance that illustrates the strengths of project-based learning, learning that allows every child to contribute in shine in unique and positive ways. This performance also teaches children what it means to be a positive team member and what the awesome results of optimal teamwork look like.

Global Changemakers Project
I'll help students read, take notes, write about, present, and understand the lives of the global changemaker they've decided to study with depth. This is an intense, deep project that results in students' greater skill, knowledge, and understanding of the world around them. 

Climate Change Projects
I'll give students the time they need to complete and present their wonderful projects, projects that will help all of us to live and work with an Earth-friendly mindset and actions. 

Boston Walking Tour
I'll support students' day-long tour through historic Boston, a tour led by a knowledgeable docent who will teach children about the history of our country via multiple stories and visits to notable landmarks in the city.

Professional Learning and Activity
I'll work to shore up the learning materials and supports for all the learning experiences listed above. I'll also spend time with my team planning for next year and completing reports related to this year's efforts and student achievement.

Professional Demeanor and Home/School Balance
It's so important to have a good professional and respectful demeanor--this is sometimes a challenge in busy school culture that, at times, calls you to do more and be more than is humanly possible. Yet despite the challenge, it is essential to be ethical, respectful, and professional at all times. A good healthy home/school balance that includes nutritious foods, healthy activity, plenty of rest, and some away-from-school fun and recreation supports this positive ethical, respectful, professional mindset and actions. This is essential to the good work possible. Ways to support these efforts in your school life include the following:
  • wait time - don't feel like you have to answer all questions or requests immediately. It's often better to wait until you have the time to think and consider questions and requests with peaceful, restful time.
  • questioning - don't jump to judge or respond, but instead use questioning to clearly understand situations before judging the situation or responding.
  • less said - listen more than talk. Make time to listen carefully to what's happening, what's requested, or what's said. Be specific with your words and questions.
  • research - make time to collect and organize evidence that supports your requests, questions, needs as good evidence helps you to create claims and arguments that others understand and can support
  • reasonable - don't over estimate what you can do, but instead establish a good routine and reasonable expectations for your work and effort. 
  • good collaborators - choose the people you collaborate with and the efforts you commit to carefully. When you surround yourself with good people, you have the support your need to do a good job.
There's a couple more days to enjoy the vacation and rest up for the good teaching and learning ahead.  Making the time to establish a plan and remind yourself of the good work and guidelines you want to support will help you to make the final leg of the year a successful and profitable time for you, colleagues, students, and families. 

Promote Professional Effort

It's best to promote professional effort in your own work and the work of others too.

This is not a great challenge if you work in an organization that holds professional effort high, but this is much more difficult if the environment where you work does not regard professional effort with respect, care, or support.

Know your job; Do your job
To be a respected professional, it's integral that you understand your job and do it well. In some cases, a lack of job descriptions or clear and reasonable job guidelines can obstruct professionalism when it comes to doing your jobs. Sometimes educators' jobs are not reasonable which leaves teachers with tough choices. Other times educators' job descriptions are unclear and unknown which leaves a lot of room for interpretation and angst. If I'm expecting an educator that visits my room to do one job, and that educator is working with another set of guidelines, then it's likely that there will be conflict, less collaboration, and less good, professional work. As I think of the new leadership that is coming to our school, I think it may be good to ask the question, "What is most important to you with regard to my work and job?" Knowing the person's definition and priorities with regard to my job description will help me to fulfill the work in ways that foster better collaboration.

Deal with issues with respect and a straightforward approach
Many fear dealing with the issues that face us in our work. I remember years ago when I received a lot of negative push back because I wanted to work to provide tech devices to students who didn't have tech at home. Many found fault with this idea, but fortunately others, after time, came to support the idea and now it's a mainstay at our school--a mainstay that has provided a positive support to our students. I'm glad that I wasn't afraid to push the issue forward even though I was met with contempt at first. Over time I've been learning to forward ideas with greater respect, good speak, and camaraderie too. It's best to deal with issues that face us, and it's best to be persistent, truthful, and respectful with regard to that advocacy. We have to be willing to be wrong and to learn as we advocate, and we also have to be willing to work with others with truth and perseverance too in the face of issues that help us to be and do better.

Steer clear of gossip, lies, and lethargy
In every organization there is gossip, lies, and lethargy. It's best to steer clear of this. I believe that gossip and lies exist, in part, because people are afraid to speak up about troubling issues. I also believe that a lack of transparency, poor communication, and untruths lead to greater gossip, lies, and lethargy. It's best to be upfront about troubling issues and to ask questions rather than spread information that may not be true. It's good to surround yourself with people who do the good work, tell the truth, and work with positive energy and effort--to surround yourself with people like that makes it much easier for you to do the right thing.

A little for today and a little for tomorrow
To invest in your profession is to make your professional work better and more meaningful. At work if we invest in doing a good job today and also making time to develop our work, we will find that we contribute to a positive professional environment.

Ask questions that matter
Confusion is often at the root of professional problems. Asking questions with respect lead us ahead. Good questions that may help include the following:

  • What does this mean? Often we're confused about what a statistic, policy, or decision means.
  • What is your main objective? Sometimes what we believe to be someone's main objective is not correct. It's important to understand what people's main objectives are when they work with us--that helps us to work well together?
  • How can I foster this change? If you see room for change, you may want to ask those who can help you make that change about how to best foster that change.
  • How can I do this better? If people find fault with your efforts, you might want to ask them how they believe you can do it better.
Ethics matter
You have to continually revisit your professional ethics, and use ethical behavior at work. if your ethics are challenged, you can simply not go along and say, That is unethical. A few years ago I was threatened to do something that was unethical. The individual who threatened me did not think he was asking me to do something unethical, but I felt it was unethical. I consulted a lawyer who agreed with me that to follow the directive was unethical. I had to endure the threat and hostile speak, but I was glad that I didn't go along and I also remained respectful throughout the situation. Later a decision was made that was ethical and appeased both parties. We see so often in the news the great hardship that people face when they go along with unethical demands or behavior. It's not worth it, and we have to be ethical to do the good work possible. 

School vacations give us an opportunity to revisit our professional perspectives and efforts. It's best to always be professional and ethical with the work you do, and it's best to specifically outline what that means in your professional environment. 

Lessons from the Mueller Report

Like many Americans, I'll read the report. I've read sections so far, and listened to pundits discuss the report.

Long ago, I said that I would accept the outcome of the report as I believe that Mueller is a steadfast lawyer and patriot, one who puts truth and country above his own ego and the gossip of the moment.

The report left us with no concise conclusion about collusion--the report demonstrates suspect behavior, behavior that happened, and behavior that the President and others have no recall of. The report also demonstrates that many statements made to the public were untrue so we know that many, many Americans heard the President and his staff make untrue statements, and many Americans believed those statements to be true at the time since they were spoken by our country's leadership team.

When I read the whole report in the days ahead, I'll think deeply about the reported events that occurred and the responses to those events by our country's leadership team. I'll draw conclusions as I read--conclusions about their actions, statements, and what should occur next.

I'll also listen to politicians, lawyers, and other leaders in the days ahead to learn how they see this report from their perspective, expertise, and the law.

So far as I read the report, I am reminded that it never pays to lie or cheat. Also if you're not going to support your team, you should be transparent about that. For example when the President did not support Comey, he should have simply been transparent about that to the American people rather than also using it as a way to make fun of Comey with Russian leaders.

And when people strike out against you, you need to uphold the mission of your work and your character. For example when Trump learned of Russia's interference in our elections, he should have done the right thing which is to stand up against that influence by forwarding new policies and laws to stop such influence.

Also you need to surround yourself with good people and you have to support those people with truth. You don't want to surround yourself with untruthful people, and you don't want to be untruthful yourself. It's better to accept the truth, even when humbling or troubling, and work for betterment.

It's clear that we don't have a President with good character. Instead we have a President who is comfortable with lying, and one who surrounds himself with a staff who are similarly comfortable with spreading untruths. We also have a President whose worries about his own reputation have halted his ability to work against foreign influence on our elections and our freedom and justice as a country. What else has this President done or not done as a weak leader?
  • Our debt is great while he has given a tax break to the wealthiest people and corporations. 
  • He and his staff have turned their backs on the science that clearly demonstrates a need for greater environmental protections.
  • They have shamed, blamed, and disrespected multiple hard working, good Americans via Twitter comments, press reports, and lack of support. 
  • This president  has fostered hate and prejudice against multiple groups of people including many oppressed and desperate refugees and immigrants rather than work with others to create and forward solutions to this grave situation. 
  • Rather than choose the best and brightest, he continues to choose friends and family members for important jobs which also weakens our government and our future as a strong nation.
  • He has shown no support for our public schools and hired a Secretary of Education who appears to be a reward for substantial donations to his campaign rather than an individual who truly understands education and how public schools can be well supported and strengthened at the national level.
The President and his staff's poor example of leadership, credibility, and time/money well spent is a lesson to all of us about how not to lead and be--we can all work better for greater transparency, truth, and good work in our jobs and lives. We must support leaders who work for betterment with good character, effort, and expertise, and we must also be those people in our own spheres of influence.