Friday, May 31, 2019

Friday Musings: What a Week!

It was an incredibly busy week of finalizing climate change projects, researching and writing about extraordinary people past and present, and taking a historic tour of Boston. The children were amazing and the parents very supportive. Next week will be wholly focused on the biography projects with some breaks to focus on the Middle School transition, Room to Read Book Share/Fund Raiser, and a few other matters.

The heavy lifting for the year is mostly complete--there's some editing and project refinement ahead, and then a big focus on the creative and engaging Global Cardboard Challenge and other celebratory, creative events. In some ways, it feels like the plane is landing after a long and exciting journey abroad. Onward.

Global Changemakers Project: Invited to the Extraordinary, Rich Lives of People Who Changed the World

Fifth grade teachers, under the leadership of a skilled colleague, are guiding students to completion with their Global Changemakers Projects--projects that include reading, research, writing a fictional interview, creating a digital poster, illustrating a portrait, dressing in character, and performing as part of a human timeline of global changemakers from the past to the present.

This project continues to grow over the years, and every year it's amazing to witness the affect that these global changemakers past and present have on the young lives of fifth graders. As I read several interviews this morning, I was struck by the powerful interpretations children were making as they pretended to be both the interviewer and interviewee in the reports. Children's invitation to take an up close and personal view of these extraordinary people and the amazing lives they have lived, struggles they have encountered, and perseverance they have experienced is truly transformative. I read children's words carefully, words they wrote about Edison, Malala, Elizabeth Blackwell, Madeleine Albright and so many more.

This is education at its finest--learning that integrates the arts, technology, reading, writing, conversation, and performance, education that plants critical seeds in these children's lives, seeds that will help to develop greater intellect, perspective, questioning, decision making, and positive living. Onward.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Good Enough: Project Based Learning

Our team is fully involved with project based learning (PBL) at the end of the year. The most challenging aspect of PBL is the limitless quality of where you can take the project. That's why there comes a point when the project is good enough, and at this point you remind yourself that the seed of good learning and good study/innovation ahead has been planted.

Tonight I put together the culminating film for the climate change projects. As every filmmaker knows, it's endless when it comes to what you can do to make a film great. You can always work to better the quality of the picture, the sound, the just-right recording, and the length of each clip. I actually love making films--it's quintessential project work, but there always comes the point when you say, good enough.

The same will happen with students' biography reports in the next couple of days. Educators are working tirelessly to help every child reach a super level of performance with this project that includes reading, research, a written interview, portrait, digital poster, and costume. As children delved into the details of multiple global changemakers throughout time, the questions, conversations, and points of interest that arise are amazing. Today as a class we looked at one child's exceptional fictional interview with Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Children's questions and comments demonstrated wonderful inquiry and learning. This is a good project, and we'll work to help every child reach that just-right point of presentation and performance. There will be a point when we say, good enough.

The same has been true for our climate change projects. Students worked in small teams to come up with plan to help planet Earth deal with global warming. Student teams navigated many positive challenges as they worked on these projects, challenges that included gaining background knowledge, working effectively with classmates, coming up with a good idea, making a plan, and putting that plan into action. In many cases, students started out with BIG ideas, and then had to modify those plans to more realistic ideas--ideas that matched the time, resources, and capacity available. We all know that's a natural result of project work.

The final few weeks of school are marked by many wonderful projects like the two above, and our work with regard to those projects needs to be graceful work as we close a wonderful year of teaching and learning.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Climate Change/Global Warming Student Projects

Our team worked with the Massachusetts' Audubon environmental education staff to forward students' education and advocacy related to the local watershed and global warming. Throughout the year students learned about and studied the local watershed ecosystem and the impact of global warming and climate change on that ecosystem and our lives. Later student teams identified one climate change issue they wanted to study more, and after that they created a service learning/advocacy project related to that climate change issue. This year-long study with a wonderful naturalist coach resulted in lots and lots of learning, learning that we'll continue to build next year.

As I work to piece together multiple student summaries of their projects into one short film, I find myself reflecting on all the project pieces and how we might develop and better the learning and project work next year.

Some of the main features of next year's work will include the following:

Focus on Teamwork
We were surprised to find that working as a team was challenging for many students, and ended up doing a lot of teaching related to teamwork. Next year we'll begin the year with a strong social-emotional learning focus on what it means to be an effective team member and how good teams work. Our school guidance counselor has agreed to help out with this, and this is a natural focus for the starting days of the school year, days when our TeamFive fifth grade group begins their year-long learning/teaching adventure.

Focus on Survival
Since the STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, and math) focuses on survival-related projects, we plan to begin the year with a survival theme that incorporates related reading and writing. We'll use that theme to bridge the end-of-fourth-grade focus on adaptation to our efforts as humans to innovate in order to survive and live well. We'll use this theme also as an adventurous perspective with which to learn about the local watershed.

Standards-based science, tech, and engineering
While this year's study was tied to the standards, we'll aline the standards with even more strength next year by making sure that students bring the study full circle using science, tech, and engineering vocabulary and process to solidify concepts, skills, and knowledge in memorable ways, ways that find students writing, talking, and extending the learning in rich and deep ways.

Teaching the tools
We use many tools as we study the local environment. At the start of the year, we'll teach those tools in multiple ways. Students will learn to use microscopes, compasses, nets, iPads for outdoor exploration, water testing materials, and more. The better students know how to use the tools with care, the better they'll be able to extend the study.

Greening the classroom; intentional learning
Sometimes mostly because school life is so fast, we are not as intentional as we can be about being a green classroom. From the start of the year, we'll work to reduce the use of plastics, to reuse and recycle as much as possible, to use less paper, and treat all of the tools and materials we use with care.

There's much to learn in this curriculum area. The children are clearly invested in the study and project work. I'm sure this will positively affect their good living and leading in the future.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Summer Study Update

Memorial Day weekend was a bit complicated as I tried to figure out the best way to deal with a family situation--one of those messy, complicated, and unclear situations. I thought and thought as I consulted and conferred with others. And finally after a day of big think, I landed at a resolve. Some problems don't present themselves as simply as others, and some take a lot of consideration before reaching a good conclusion.

Generally having a good plan and thinking ahead helps one to steer clear of points of confusion like I experienced this weekend. Considering the landscape ahead helps you to be prepared, in a large part, for what's to come.

As I think about this with regard to the school year, I find that I need to update my summer study plans a bit.

What's most important this summer is to catch up on some important personal needs to be ready for school year 2019-2020. I think most teachers will agree that personal items are often put on hold during the school year in order to complete the teaching/learning work desired. This summer I'll make the time to catch up in the personal sphere with a number of tasks--some enjoyable and some arduous, but important nevertheless.

I'll also make time to do the reading, research, coursework and prep that will set the stage for a good year ahead. Our team has set aside some time to complete this work.

Not unlike the children we teach, we often gravitate towards the most satisfying and enjoyable work while leaving some of the necessary, less interesting work behind. This summer I'll dig into some of those less desirable, but very important, personal work that will set the stage for a positive 2019-2020 teaching year. Onward.

Making a Climate Change Video

Since our climate change learning/project efforts were supported by a grant, it's our job to share what students learned and created in some way. We've chosen to make a film since it's a good way to share a year's worth of learning and project work.

Today each student team will share what they know in a short video, then a few students will work with me to write and present the introductions, transitions, and closing. I may ask a few of our student musicians to play music for the background music too.

Making a film is a good way to capture and share the learning for the whole school, funders, and others--we look forward to this creation and presentation.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Simmer: Important Aspect of Good Learning

Just like making a rich sauce, optimal teaching requires the simmer--a period of synthesis when the learning ingredients slowly meld to create rich learning. I thought about this today as I looked back on our day in the field last Friday. The field study was filled with activity--so much activity that it was difficult to take it all in, but now a few days later, images of mating water snakes, sunbathing turtles, a goose egg, elegant geese, beautiful red-wing black birds, multiple invertebrates, stone-sitting green frogs, camouflaged bull frogs, slithering muskrats, a white swan, and tree swallows fill my mind.

I remember having a similar reaction after my family would take a day-long hike in the White Mountains. The hike was filled with adventure and challenge. There were moments of pure frustration as we trudged up muddy, rock-strewn, steep, forested trails, and moments of pure elation when we reached the rocky ledges and peaks--points where we could see beautiful vistas in all directions, and points where the air seemed so fresh and clean. At the end of those day-long, multi-mile mountainous hikes, I was exhausted, and though I was happy to have met the challenge, I could not remember all we did or experienced. It would be days later when the memories simmered that I remembered Peter dancing up the trail, Dad's encouraging words, Chrissy's spring to the finish line, sharing a lunch and candy bars at the summit, and rock dancing down to the mountain's base. The simmering not only allowed me to remember all we did, but it also turned those wonderful hiking adventures into meaningful metaphors for living a good life, facing challenge, and working as a team.

Similarly, my wonderful trip to Drumlin Farm as a child was a busy day of adventure in a beautiful farm setting in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Simmering transformed that day-long adventure into a thread of life that found me revisiting Drumlin Farm and working with the naturalists there as a parent and teacher year after year to allow my children and my students to experience nature in meaningful, life-enriching ways.

At the end of the field study on Friday, the children and teachers were weary. It was a long day in the beautiful outdoors, a day of hiking, learning about nature, and ponding. There were challenges and it came after the busiest school week of the year--a week that included a grade-level musical, multiple hands-on science projects, and biography research, writing, and illustration. I was a bit worried about the week's busyness, but now as I relax today, and see what time to simmer the experience has done for me, I can only imagine that some of the fifth graders are looking back on the adventure too, and replicating what we did through stories, writing, drawing, or their own adventures during this long weekend.

Learning is not static, but instead learning is an active process that includes planning, preparation, anticipation, activity, reflection, simmering, and more. Learning is ongoing with a river-like quality. As an educator, I want to provide children with many meaningful learning experiences, the kind that help them to create a good knowledge, skill, and concept foundation, events that they want to replicate on their own and with others now and into the future, and the type of events that also help to create rich metaphors that lead these children ahead in life in ways that matter. Onward.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Living in Trump Times: Discouraged by Poor Leadership

To live in Trump times and work in public education, a profession that the President does not support, is challenging. Yet fortunately we are a country of laws, and we have to use the laws to right the direction of wayward politicians and leaders.

When we allow leaders to serve themselves over country, we give away our voice.

When we allow leaders to support laws that lessen our needed supports, freedom, and environment, we give away our ability to live as well as we can.

When we allow leaders to continually skirt the law in ways that cost all of us extra money, we cheat ourselves.

We have to elect leaders who obey the law to the fullest measure, not just in ways that benefit them and keep them out of jail.

We have to elect leaders who demonstrate good character and judgement, the kind of people we want our children and grandchildren to emulate rather than bigoted, hateful, egomaniacs who serve themselves before country.

We have to elect intelligent leaders who are able to identify the best and brightest individuals in every field, and work with those people to bring our country ahead in ways that improve living conditions for all.

We have to elect humane leaders that don't step on the poor and destitute with prejudicial, demeaning comments while supporting wealthy me-first politicians and businessmen. We need fair minded leaders who value people of all classes, races, countries, genders, and cultures--not leaders who only value people that look like them or have something they want.

Trump times are discouraging times for those of us that value our country's Constitution, democracy, and will for freedom. It's a time when we have to watch a leader continually challenge our values in his speech, his actions, and his self-serving ways.

I can't fathom why people would value and vote for such a dangerous, insensitive, and challenged leader--it just doesn't make sense to me.

Just Consequences

No teacher or parent likes to see a child suffer the consequences of bad behavior. If a child knowingly does something dangerous, that child typically receives a consequence to demonstrate that the behavior is problematic, and to help teach the child not to repeat that behavior.

While it's hurtful to watch your child suffer a consequence, it's much worse to diminish the meaning that consequence has. We can be compassionate to our children by acknowledging how painful it is to endure a consequence, but we also have to be honest with them by letting them know how dangerous their behavior was, and how lucky they are to have this opportunity to learn now rather than to continue using a dangerous behavior, the kind of behavior that could hurt someone.

When parents and teachers allow children to suffer the consequences of poor behavior, they do help children to learn what's right and what's wrong, and they save children from more painful and hurtful negative behavior later on. Better that a ten-year-old endure a school consequence for purposely breaking, taking, or mis-using an item then get in the habit of doing that later on when the consequence can be jail time, missed opportunities, or fines.

Of course, this area of child life has to be treated with utmost care and respect. Consequences need to match the problem so a child can truly learn from their mistakes or misdeeds. And, we have to make sure we have the supports in place to help children do better. We need to think about children's misbehavior as opportunities for teaching rather than punishment. To simply punish children with no compassion, teaching, or learning, is to set a child up for failure. When children misbehave, there's typically underlying reasons that need to be understood to help that child do the right thing later on.

This is not a simple area of good parenting or teaching, but it is an area we have to be aware of and collaborate around to help children positively develop as much as we can.

How can I help you?

The words, "How can I help you?" are powerful words.

Rather than don't do that or you should. . . .," when an individual is displaying behavior that's questionable, we can respond with, How can I help you? Those few words serve to diffuse most situations.

When we notice young children doing something we perceive as wrong, we can say, "I noticed that you ________________, and I'm wondering how I can help you do the right thing in this situation." That's a lot better than coming on strong. Of course, if a behavior is dangerous and destructive, we may need to have a strong reaction to stop the behavior first, then discuss how to help.

The best teachers are very sensitive to students' needs when their behavior is out of line. Those teachers work continuously to help students grow to be their best possible selves. These teachers don't have personal discussions about behavior in front of other students, and they don't use harsh words. These teachers are sensitive guides and counselors when it comes to helping children. These are the teachers that children grow to love and respect the most.

In busy school settings where there is lots of activity and often not that many adults to support the learning, to be that sensitive teacher is not always easy, but it's always important to reach for that sensitivity, care, and guidance as we work with young children. It's always important to be there to ask, "How can I help you?" That will develop the trusting student-teacher relationships you hope to grow.

Ending the year gracefully

The school year ending is near.

The biggest projects are complete or near completion.

The children have much to enjoy, engage in, and do.

The big focus now includes
  • completing the climate change video
  • completing biography reports
  • cleaning up and organizing the classroom
  • making lots of time to support students positively as they end the year--making time to truly listen to their needs and support them
Overall it has been one of the best teaching years in my career. The families were very supportive. The materials at hand to teach well were positive. The collaboration with my grade-level team terrific, and the opportunity to enrich the curriculum with many special events, new learning experiences, and collaborative study wonderful. 

There's always room for betterment, but for now it's time to mostly take a break from deep analysis, support the children well, and end the year as gracefully as possible. Onward. 

Starting the year with creating and sharing expectations

The start of the school year is the best time to teach children about what's expected in a classroom environment. Since classrooms are usually filled with twenty or more students, the expectations involve how to treat one another, advocate for what you need, collaborate, and learn best.

A space for every child
Every child needs a bit of space for their personal and study items. It's important to designate those spaces and teach children how to care for their spaces and respect each others' spaces.

Shared seating
Now that many classrooms have multiple seating options, it's important to fairly distribute the popular chairs such as hoki stools, comfy chairs, and other special seating.

Classroom jobs and responsibilities
There are a few very important jobs and responsibilities that help to keep a classroom running well such as clean-up, lunch count, attendance, and transition efforts. It's important that children share in these responsibilities to keep a classroom running smoothly.

Learning patterns
When learning takes on a pattern-like approach, children generally know what to expect and have more time to do engaging learning that's possible.

Material care
Students need to be explicitly taught how to use and care for the materials they use. We can't assume that children will understand this.

Recess rules
There's a number of playground rules that are important to convey to keep the playground space safe and fun.

Daily expectations
Hanging up your things, signing in, reading the schedule, getting started on morning work, putting away your items, cleaning up, and walking politely and quietly through the halls are expectations that help everyone to have a successful day.

Apt behavior
Students need to discuss what it means to be an optimal listener, teammate, friend, work partner, independent learner, and more. Together students and teachers can create guidelines to support these behaviors, and throughout the year, rather than through punishment or threats, teachers need to teach students how to use these behaviors in positive ways to have good days. This teaching is a mainstay in elementary school classrooms as children learn to be successful in social environments outside of their homes.

At the end of the year, I'm always thinking about how to start the new year of teaching. Assessing what worked well this year and what might work better in the next year. This is a ripe time for this kind of analysis.

Too Much, Too Little, Just Right: Seeking the Balance in School

When my children were young, they really liked the Bernstein Bears books because those books related to their lives. I thought the book in the series, Too Much Birthday, after we navigated a week that was filled to the brim with activity. Essentially we're trying to fit it all in before the end of the year which is both good and not-so-good.

What's good is that the activities planned, curriculum taught, and new learning/teaching explored are all positive. We're giving students lots of opportunity to explore multiple mediums of learning. Though some prefer some more than others, there's essentially learning for everyone. Even when a child does not like a learning event, that teaches that child something important about who they are, and what they enjoy.

The not so good part of a too-busy week is that sometimes the children who need more structure and more time, can get overwhelmed, and when they are overwhelmed their self regulation, good choices, and ability to work well with peers and teachers diminishes. A good routine is important to all children and especially children who need for structure and time for many, many reasons.

Yet as I think about the curriculum map and the year's planning, it is never perfect, and there are many, many factors involved including multiple teachers, classes, tests, and more. In general we create a curriculum map at the start of the year to support a good pace with regard to the learning. There are times with more activity and less and times where the activity is more engaging and less depending on the tasks at hand and expectations. When we plan, we plan for a positive balance of effort so it is just right for every child.

Rather than lessen the positive events included in our schedule, I think one way that we can help out when the learning becomes too much for individual children is to make sure their special supports are in place--if we're going to teach in the field, then those special supports should be available in the field too. We'll have to think more about how to make that happen with our extended teaching team, and as noted in a previous post, we have to think carefully about preparation especially for children who  may be challenged by a particular learning event. For example, when we attended the theater this year, we provided a lot of preparation to help children who would be sensitive to the plot, location, and seating. Similarly with our recent field trip, we alerted families to the preparation needs that help children out. Yet, it's hard to anticipate every issue that will happen. As a parent, I know that's the same with our own family outings--we plan the events well, prepare, and expect everything to go as planned, yet it's more likely that not every element of those events go as planned. Every parent can name circumstances where things didn't go as planned for all kinds of reasons. And with that in mind, it's important to teach students about being flexible too, and how to stop, look, listen, and decide what to do when events don't go as planned.

The busiest week of the school year is over, and now we are moving into busy times, but times with less intense expectations--times when we'll be able to help each other complete tasks with care, and times mostly close to school where there will be lots of supports available as we end the school year.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Field Study Thoughts

We've had many field studies this year, and as I tell students prior to each adventure--safety comes first. The better we can support students' ability to self regulate, use good manners, advocate for their needs respectfully, and learn, the more fun and successful field studies will be.

In general, we continually try to improve our field studies to match learning goals and provide students with opportunities to learn in many wonderful settings such as nature preserves, theaters, museums, historic sites, stadiums, and more.

Some of the most important training and efforts to support optimal field studies include the following:

Good listening skills
While we would never want to have students listen for too long, it is essential that students learn to listen in order to learn. They need to understand the role of experts when it comes to learning new information, and show those experts, guides, and leaders respect including good listening. There are many ways to build those listening skills, and it's essential that students learn and practice what's expected in this arena at the start of the year.

Polite words and language
We know that people who learn to speak politely generally gain favor over those who are rude--students need to understand that with explicit teaching and practice about what is considered polite and what is not.

How to ask questions and advocate for what you need
In general our team works to serve every child well, and that service is much more doable when students are able to express their needs and ask questions in ways that are respectful, understandable, and reasonable. When you tell students, "I'm here for you, and these are the ways you can express your needs and questions to get what you need or want," that helps.

Good preparation
The better you are prepared, the better the field trip will be. We alert families to what children need for a successful trip. We suggest types of clothing such as layers or shoes that can become muddy, sunscreen and bug spray when needed, and food needs such as lunch and snacks. If children are dressed for the type of event and weather, they are generally more comfortable. If they bring healthy snacks or lunches, they generally have better energy. If they know what to expect from the trip, they tend to enjoy the trip more too. So good preparation matters.

For most school field studies, it's important to have chaperones to help you out. We are fortunate that many family members volunteer to chaperone. In the future, we may want to bring along extra teaching support too. Special educators and specialists could be very helpful for our trips since they know the students well. It's also important to give the chaperones a heads-up about what the trip will entail and what the expectations for student behavior are.

Personal needs
It's important to figure out where the bathrooms will be and other kinds of personal needs supports at the venue. For example, sometimes children require specialized seating for theater shows or specific groups for team events.

Field studies open students' eyes about the kinds of learning and living that's in the world around them. Field studies also provide a common learning experience that builds team and positive reference points for later learning. Field studies further require a lot of good planning and prep. Our team is invested in this part of the learning year, and we repeatedly reach out to family members, students, and colleagues for suggestions, reflections, and critique so we can continually make these experiences better and better.

Goals, goals, and more goals

I have to continually coach myself forward with good goals. This good work is not instinctual because it takes concerted effort to push ahead to better teaching and learning for myself and my students.

Again and again as I try new learning/teaching endeavor, I see ways to better what I can do to teach well.

Yesterday I taught a planting lesson to three classes, each time I hit some of the goals, but at no time did I hit all of the goals. The plant packet still requires greater finesse, organization, and thought. Yet, it was better than last year.

All of our learning events have limitless potential for betterment--with teaching, like living, we're never there as there is always more to learn and ways to improve what we do.

Yet students overall engagement, questioning, and commentary demonstrated to me that yesterday's lesson is worth bettering--student engagement spurs that goal setting and the learning evolution we're involved in as educators seeking to promote the best possible holistic learning/teaching program for our students.

As I think about that and today's exploration in nature, I'm thinking about the big goals that will lead me ahead with the collaboration of so many invested and talented colleagues, students, and family members:

Hands-on, standards-based science learning that's integrated with other disciplines
In the best of situations this learning goes full circle beginning with meaningful questions and moving through hypothesis, exploration, making/creating, testing, reflecting/analyzing, re-making/creating, testing again, and determining next steps. My colleague noted yesterday that we continually model this process as we move the teaching/learning program ahead each day, week, and month of the year.

Meaningful, hands-on, problem-based math learning and teaching
Using multiple efforts including hands-on exploration, performance assessments, games, math talk, writing, and interdisciplinary efforts to lead students to mastery with the grade-level standards and more.

Confident, collaborative, kind learning community
Promoting an effective learning community that builds students' individual and collective confidence, collaboration, and kindness towards one another--a community that's able to creatively, compassionately, and critically solve problems and learn on their own and together.

These are the main goals leading me forward in the days ahead. It's good to have a positive shortlist like this to focus on.

Spending a day in nature with children

Today we'll spend a day in nature with children at a beautiful nature preserve in our greater community. To ready for the event, I listened to an interview with Stephen Kellert, Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology and Senior Research Scholar at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

The interview affirmed our programming based on the beneficial attributes of playing and learning in the natural environment. Our many outdoor education and nature-related lessons are positive for students in so many way, ways that will help our students to be happy, creative, collaborative problem solvers in their own lives and in the lives of communities.

The interview also set the stage for further environmental education efforts including the following:
  • Supporting existing formal and informal outdoor education events such as our wonderful school garden
  • Promoting forest play with adequate supervision at regular intervals
  • Integrating our discipline-specific learning events with our natural environment
  • Affirming and supporting students' exploration, questioning, and interest in nature
  • Creating a nature tool and information collection to support students' exploration including nets, magnifying lenses, guides, stories, and more.
  • Using the resources from the Children Nature Network to inform and promote our efforts
  • Continuing to connect with local conservation organizations via field studies, in-house expert visitors, grants, projects, and more.
I'm excited about today's adventure and the many ways we will continue to develop these efforts with our students, family members, and colleagues in the days ahead.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Thursday Musings: May 23, 2019

What a week! A play, solar ovens, planting seedlings, a field study, and biography research. There were specialist subjects, recess, and learning with buddies too. All the activities were engaging and the children have stayed the creative, entertaining, and positively challenging course too.

Tomorrow we'll end the week with a big clean-up of the many, many science materials in the room. We'll make space for next week's big focus on the biography research, writing, illustration, cotume creation, and digital posters. To complete that project well we need a good clean learning space where children are focused on the project at hand.

Next week also includes a sexual abuse prevention program and a historic tour of Boston. As they did in the play and science projects, I know that the students will help one another do their very best to complete their biography presentations. It will be another good week. Onward.

Bettering the Science Teaching

There is skill to becoming a great science teacher. I know that because as we deepen our science program, I have lots of questions and see many areas where I can improve the work I do.

Team building
Optimal science learning depends on teamwork, and while some children seem to have a natural ability to work with others, that's not the case for all children, or all adults for that matter. Good collaboration takes skill, and we can build that skill in many meaningful ways.

Material organization
Worthy hands-on science teaching and learning depends on good material management. That takes time, and that also requires teaching. Students need to learn about the materials they are using including how to use the materials and how to put the materials away. And good material organization depends on space too. One reason many elementary school teachers may shy away from science teaching is that we simply don't have a lot of space for the materials we use to forward great projects. Nevertheless each year we keep working at this, and each year we get better and better at it.

Learning patterns
Young children benefit from patterns--when lessons follow a similar pattern, it allows student to spend more time on the actual learning than understanding what to do first, next, and after that. In general, the pattern I hope to use next year involves these steps:
  • Begin with a meaningful question
  • Hypothesize about what the answer might be
  • Engage in an activity related to the question as a team
  • Follow a lab plan that includes stop scripted steps and some open ended steps so students know what to do, and are given opportunities to test, create, and try out options related to the question
  • Clean-up
  • Share in the rug area.
The most successful learning experiences this year were short, purposeful lessons that didn't include too many steps. Those learning experiences fit into the time available and left time for greater exploration and discussion. Some of the learning experiences were too big for the time or for students' capacity to complete all those steps at once--learning experiences like that are best broken down into smaller steps. 

Background knowledge and extensions
Getting students used to checking their online homework list and including both previews and enrichment opportunities on that list helps students to learn about what's coming up and then extend the learning on their own time if interested. 

I enjoy the challenge of working to teach the science better and better--it's a good challenge for me at this point in my career. Onward. 

Deepen the learning

At this week's school committee meeting, administrators discussed deepening the learning. Of course, that's a goal I'm a fan of since I know that when we do the work possible to make learning meaningful, deep, and relevant, we make the learning engaging and enriching. This is good.

How can we deepen the learning? What exactly do we do to make this happen?

Assess the current learning efforts
How successful are current learning efforts? How do you assess that success? Our team conducts a holistic assessment using these tools and techniques:
  • Student written reflections and reflective discussions
  • State, system, and classroom test results and project work
  • Student reactions to the learning--are they happy, are they invested, are they applying the new knowledge, do we hear them talking about the learning in meaningful ways?
  • Parent and administrator feedback
  • Assessment with regard to new education research and professional learning
Notice the deficits and opportunity for greater growth
As we teach we are aware of deficits and opportunities to teach better. We keep track of those ideas and use them to improve the teaching ahead. For example, students create plant packets. Next year we'd like to build on that project by turning those plant packet seedlings into vertical gardens that green our classrooms and make our classrooms learning labs. Currently ways that we would like to improve the overall curriculum including the following efforts:
  • Embed social-emotional learning more explicitly and successfully throughout the curriculum
  • Weave curriculum goals from varied disciplines together into meaningful learning more often and with greater depth
  • Use the local environment as a stage for meaningful learning more often throughout all disciplines
  • Make sure that students read, write, discuss, and present on learning as a way to deepen their ability to learn and apply the content facts, concepts, vocabulary, and skills.
  • When we receive test results, we'll look closely at specific standards that students were less successful with and think about how we might strengthen students' learning in those areas with greater depth, meaning, and engagement. Our systemwide tests have already pointed to a few areas that we can strengthen next year. For example, we review the area model often for fractions, but when students were called to use that approach they could not independently do it. Next year that skill will be the focus of a meaningful performance assessment based on a meaningful, relevant problem to solve. Using a writers workshop approach of drafting, editing, and completing a final copy will help every child attain greater depth and skill with this learning standard.
Organize the learning with lesson plans, related resources, and website pages
Once we identify the areas that we want to grow, we then research and write up the plans for growth. Those plans include the learning experiences, related videos, needed materials, and informative project pages on our class websites. This sets the stage for the improved teaching.

Curriculum Map
We weave our new learning with existing learning by mapping the teaching year. The loose-tight map we make ensures that we include all teaching/learning efforts and makes space for new and revised learning efforts. We revise the map as needed.

Weekly Schedule
We create a weekly schedule that ensures that we meet the teaching goals and objectives. 

Regular Meetings
We meet regularly to review and revise the teaching/learning schedule, events, and learning experiences. We invite families, students, and colleagues to join us on this journey via regular communication and the invitation to share their ideas, questions, and expertise as we travel a year of meaningful and engaging learning with and for students. 

Today's Teaching/Learning: May 23, 2019

Today is another busy day in fifth grade.

Students will begin the day by readying for transitions and engaging in a class meeting to make sure that everyone turns in needed permission slips. Some students may bring in items to cook in their solar ovens, so we'll make a bit of time at the start of the day to let them set up their ovens and the ready for cooking. It's a cloudy day so it will be interesting to see how the ovens work.

During the science rotation, students will unwrap their plant packets and plant their seedlings into soil cups. Later they'll package their plants carefully and bring them home to continue nurturing the plants' growth. If there's time left over after that, they'll work on completing their STEAM packets and discuss how they might continue the learning at home, and how we might improve this teaching for students next year.

During our Lit Mix time, students will work on their biography research and/or climate change projects. I will be meeting with small teams and recording their project summaries for the climate change project video.

At the end of the day, students will continue to work on the climate change projects and biography projects too.

Since we're at the end of the STEAM survival series and nearing the end of the biography and climate change projects, it's a somewhat messy time in the classroom, but the messiness is a natural part of project work so we'll embrace it and work with it. Onward.

Environmental Education: Creating Interdisciplinary Learning

As students complete a series of three STEAM projects and their year-long climate change efforts, I am thinking about how we'll roll out this collection of relevant, standards-based lessons next year.

Our team reflects on the learning in an ongoing fashion, and as we carefully analyzed the STEAM survival series, we noticed that this series of lessons as well as the climate change projects create a perfect opportunity for embedding social-emotional learning (SEL) goals too.

Over the summer, we'll analyze this more as we prep for the new school year. I imagine that our efforts will look somewhat like this.

We are a team
We'll begin with a number of team building activities to teach students what it means to effectively work as a team, and then give them opportunities to practice teamwork with these activities and more:
  • Note card challenge: working as a team 
  • Math team number activity: listening skills, partnership skills
  • Videos, stories, and more explicit teaching via team building activities
  • Class jobs and responsibilities introduction, efforts
Learning outdoors; using hand-held science/math tools 
A number of lessons that introduce students to outdoor learning, then practicing what we learn in our school yard environment to learn the skills and tools of outdoor exploration. These lessons will include ponding, measuring, observation, photography, videotaping and more. 

Survival Stories
We'll bridge the fourth to fifth grade years, but reminding students about the animal adaptation they learned about in fourth grade and how the objective of animal behavior is survival. Students will read about survival in the outdoors with books like Hatchet and other related articles and storybooks. They'll also write survival stories.

History of the hometown
Introduction to timelines, the history of people, and the history of our local environment. Integration of social studies standards with a big picture introduction to set the stage for greater environmental and history study later.

Math Data and Statistics
We'll use numbers related to the local environment, science standards, and climate change as data for math concept, knowledge, and skill learning. 

STEAM Introduction
We'll re-make our STEAM survival series packet to include more explicit information about STEAM think and process including the science, tech, and engineering standards we'll cover during the study. To build out the STEAM think and action more, we'll likely change the pattern of study a bit by including the following existing and new steps:

  • preview at home via watching videos and reading articles
  • explore with a scripted hands-on lesson first
  • analyze the results
  • open time for improving and/or revising the design
  • testing again and potentially redesigning and testing yet again
  • final analysis and reflection 
Creating water filters
Students will learn about water and then complete a number of standards-based, water related investigations and learning experiences including the creation of water filters. 

Creating plant packets
We'll look for ways to extend this exploration to create indoor gardens using over-the-door-shoe-holder into vertical gardens. 

Solar Ovens
We will create solar ovens, and study the related science standards.

Watershed Maps and Models
Students will learn about the local watershed via map and model making

Greenway Hike
We'll celebrate our learning with a hike to a local nature preserve.

Climate change introduction and projects
We'll introduce students to the science of climate change and related standards. And we'll give students an interdisciplinary opportunity to lead a climate change service learning projects. Integrating this study more with math, reading, writing, and social studies may be able to help us tighten up the project it a bit sooner in the year so that it doesn't occur during our busy MCAS, fifth grade play, and biography project time. 

Throughout the summer, we'll continue to think about and develop this series of learning activities to improve upon the overall success and meaning of this series of learning experiences. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Next Steps: Continuing down the field

The students heard my Bill Belichick message to "chunk it" as we move down the field of the final month of school. In fact when I was talking about how we would complete a few projects, one child remarked, "chunk it."

Today students created solar ovens, then cooked s'mores. It was a good project that they are invited to build on in the week ahead by improving their first design and, perhaps, trying to cook other items in the ovens. Cries of "It works" were testament that the project is a keeper--one that fits well with the standards, our climate change focus, and environmental science.

Tomorrow, they'll plant their seedlings into soil, and we'll keep working on the climate change projects. Step-by-step we'll  move forward to complete the wonderful projects planned. It's a time of year when it's essential to coach yourself ahead. #wecandothis

Focus the collective efforts

One reason I enjoy working with the grade-level teaching team so much is that together we have focused our efforts to teach every child as well as we can. We maximize each others' strengths and mitigate each others' challenges. I have never worked with a stronger team, a team that has profited from new research and supports for optimal teamwork.

When groups are unfocused and lacking a common mission, the teamwork is challenged. When teams clearly share a common focus, goals, and appreciation of one another, those teams do well, very well.

How can we strengthen the teams we have, and develop better teamwork where teams are weak.

Drill down to the essentials
Weak teams don't take the time to drill down to the essentials--they operate without shared common goals and objectives. It's essential for leadership to understand who the organization is and where that organization is going, and it's essential that all members of the team understand that too.

Respectful, inclusive, transparent efforts
When efforts are muddy, exclusive, and lacking transparency, teamwork is challenged. Regular, respectful, streamlined, inclusive communication is essential to building strong teams. When teams are led with disrespect, lack of honesty, and poor communication, those teams suffer.

Maximize each others' strengths
No one has it all, but when teams maximize the strengths of their members, the whole team benefits. It's essential that team members know each other well, and understand each others' strengths including how to maximize those strengths for the entire team's benefit.

Regard every member of the team with respect
Sometimes teams see some members without dignity or humanity. They don't think deeply about who those people are, what they need, and how their work matters in an organization. When this happens, the chain of effective effort is broken, and time, money, and capacity are weakened. It's essential that every individual's role is taken seriously on teams and in organizations.

Recently my family team has faced a challenge--it's a challenge that involves caring for one of our family members. To meet this challenge will take all of our commitment and efforts. One missing link of this issue has been good communication, and we're looking for ways to remedy that. Another missing link is organization of effort, and we're looking into that too. Thankfully transparency, for the most part, has been good as hearsay and conjuecture can really challenge the good work of any team.

Optimal teamwork requires that all members focus on the collective effort with respect and care--when that's missing, teams suffer and the good work possible is compromised. Optimal teamwork holds tremendous potential for what we can do in any personal or professional realm.

STEAM and Climate Change Projects Completion

There's still a couple of STEAM events to complete. Today, students will create their solar ovens and cook s'mores outside in the sunshine. That's always a fun learning event.

Tomorrow, they'll check their plant packets, and then plant their seedlings in soil and bring them home to place in a windowsill, on a porch, or in the ground to hopefully sprout to giant pumpkin, watermelon, and sunflower plants.

Students will have a chance to complete their STEAM packets too.'

Further, they'll have a chance to complete their climate change projects and report on their efforts too. Each team's projects will be featured ijn a short film too.

After the busy and positive collaboration and attention needed for the play, it will be nice to move into this hands-on science study for a few days. After that we'll return to the biography research and reporting. The busy, busy days of the end of the year continue.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Invest in good effort

Our amaizng music teacher led students to provide a remarkable musical performance, a performance that included each and everyone of the 65 fifth graders. To put on a performance like that is not an easy feat, and it's an accomplishment that will become a lifelong memory that connects this groups of wonderful fifth graders into the future.

As we participated in this wonderful show's preparation and performance, it occurred to me that to invest in good effort is the way to go. There was such satisfaction helping out with a phenomenal collaborative experience like the fifth grade play, an experience that teaches students a lot about working together, risk, perseverance, practice, and performance, all skills that will be valuable to students in all aspects of their lives.

Afterwards I thought about how satisfying this investment was; it was good work that gave students a valuable experience and valuable skills. I also thought about the fact that too often we waste our time in efforts that are not that meaningful or important, efforts that we may get involved in because we've always done that or it's a ready opportunity. Instead, however, I think we have to be more intentional about what we do and why we do it because when we invest in work that matters, good effort, our work is more meaningful and satisfactory, and our impact is more valuable too.

Making again; the role of good process and collaboration in organizations today

I listened to many report on future plans, yet I wondered if they had consulted the people enough who have actually been doing the work? Time will tell. For good growth and development, you have to create a strong foundation of planning and analysis--without that strong foundation, the new work usually flounders, money is wasted, and potential is lost.

My husband attended an event recently that demonstrated keen, new ideas, but weak planning. It was an expensive, creative, and well planned event, but because the event planners did not spend enough time speaking to the people involved, the event was not well attended. There wasn't the needed connection making of past and present to truly create a positive, worthwhile endeavor.

This can happen often in organizations because systematic structure does not create good decision making teams and process. Instead there are planners and doers with little intersection. Unlike gears on a facile machine, the planners and doers work in too much isolation from one another making the work less worthy, meaningful, or impactful.

In today's world, one great need is the need for good process and collaboration--without that, we waste a lot of time and money. I wrote a short fable about this situation long ago which shows how the work by thoughtful teams can be lost if they don't regularly and meaningfully interact with the people for whom they work relies on or aims to serve.

As I think about this situation, I am thinking about my own work--do I consult family members and students enough. With my team, we send out regular newsletters and interact with families as needed. We also engage students in conversations regularly as groups and individually. I do think we do a good job consulting the team regularly with regard to learning endeavors and efforts. We make an effort to do this and do it well. We listen to feedback also and make change accordingly.

Systems today need to rethink how they structure their efforts, design their decision making processes, and promote collaboration amongst all members of an organization. It's a new age for process and collaboration as David Culberhouse (@davidculberhouse) writes about daily, and to pay attention to what this new age calls for is integral to doing the good work possible in education. Onward.

A Big Event: What's Important

Sometimes when you make so much time to plan for a big event, you might miss out on the event.

When my husband and I got married, we decided on a time to stop planning and start enjoying. The two of us shared an intimate breakfast the day before our marriage--we talked about our hopes with regard to the celebration, and then we enjoyed the many events related to the weekend celebration. Of course there were a few unexpected surprises, but with regard to the big picture, those were a small part of the overall joyful event.

Big events at school are similar. We spend a lot of time prepping for these events, and then when they happen, it's very important that we focus on the positive and the good that all that prep and planning created. Of course there will be unexpected events, events we can analyze before the next big event, but in general, before a big event, it's good to simply ready to enjoy the celebration and be glad for the good study, practice, and presentation celebrated.

We are fortunate in schools that we have the chance to work with depth with many to create and produce wonderful learning events, events that entertain, inspire, and teach others. This work is exciting and wonder-ful, the kind of effort that exemplifies the best of whom we can be on our own and with each other. Onward.

Step back, watch, and listen

There is great strength in taking time out to step back, watch, and listen. That observation time often serves to help you understand what is going on now and what can possibly happen later.

Do your job well

No matter what happens in any organization, what matters is that you do your job well. When everyone is doing their part with as much care, attention, and good work possible, organizations run well. That's one reason why I've stayed in the system where I work for so many years, generally the educators in this system work with fidelity, care, and intelligence--they do the good work possible which makes it a mostly dynamic place to work and learn.

It's possible that there can be issues and efforts that take our attention away from our daily work and expectations, but it's essential that we direct ourselves back to that work when that happens. When we do our work well we feel better, impact others well, and develop a strong foundation for future work and effort.

What does it mean to do your job well? What is most essential?

For me, at this time of year, what's most important is daily support of each and every student and close colleagues. We have a lot of wonderful learning events planned, and to engage in those events well, it's imperative that we continually focus on the welfare and needs of our students. The end of the school year is an emotional and busy time, a time that is joyful, but a time that requires our sensitive attention to students, their families, and colleagues.

It's also important to make sure that needed preparation and paperwork is completed with care in order to end the year well and begin the next year with care too.

Further, it's most important to be sensitive to the great amount of transition as well as the busyness at this time of year. It's a time when it's not a good idea to broach big, new ideas, but instead focus on the events at hand. There will be time for new think in the summer and fall months ahead.

Doing our jobs well gives us power to grow and develop our work, our collegial relations, and the impact we're able to support. This is an important focus particularly at the busy end of the school year.

Shifting relationships at home, work, and in the community

Our relationships shift over time. People who were once best friends may be more distant now, and those unknown to us a few years ago may now be the most important person in your life. We all experience shifting relationships.

Some of those shifts may be dramatic like earthquakes creating breaks that cannot be resolved, others may be short term conflicts, and others may include little to no drama. Relationships vary as do the path they take in our lives.

I've been thinking of this recently as my life changes quite a bit due to a large number of factors--it is simply a time of change for me and for those around me due to age, work, families, locale, and more.

As I think about shifting relationships, I have the following thoughts:

  • Make time to honor the long lasting and loving relationships you enjoy. You never know when there may be an unexpected or unwanted change with these relationships, and you don't want to have regrets about words unsaid or actions undone. These relationships may be the most important aspect of your life--don't squander these relationships.
  • Allow those you love and respect to move along their life paths with confidence and care. There will be times when you grow apart from those you love, and that might be all the right thing if it means that you or your loved one is taking a path that's true and right for them. People have a right to live their lives as well as they can, and sometimes that good living may mean a change in relationship.
  • Always face relationship conflicts and change with truth and respect. You won't always agree with those you relate to, but you can disagree with respect and care. As much as possible don't throw painful words and acts into relationship conflict--the kinds of words and acts that forever sever and harm an individual or relationship. 
  • When faced with a relationship conflict, put some space between you and the person. It's amazing what a bit of distance can do to remedy or reduce a relationship issue.
  • Sometimes relationships end. If a relationship is really harmful to you, and you give it a good try to make change to no avail, you may have to sever the relationship. That's a dramatic choice, but sometimes it's a choice you have to make.
Relationships with those we love and spend time with shift over time. Care and understanding of those around you will help you to use respect, compassion, and understanding with regard to these shifts. That's important. 


We are all compromised in some areas of life. None of us have it all or can do it all. Some of our compromises are more challenging and noticeable than others--those compromises humble us and can challenge us greatly.

I thought about this recently with regard to a compromising situation. I simply don't have great capacity in a particular realm I'm called to be apart of, yet I knot that it's important for me to do what I can to participate--it's a situation where I am not super strong, and a situation where that relative weakness will be noticed. A humbling situation.

How I react to the situation will matter since I won't be acting for myself alone, but for others, like me, who have less capacity in that realm. If I do my best, I'll send the message to others that they can do this too. While this is a crazy connection, I find myself thinking of the comedian Leslie Jones--one aspect of Leslie that I like so much is that she just puts those compromises out there with humor, strong speak, and confidence time and again. Leslie gives strength to all of us who have to push in areas that are more compromising, challenging, and often inequitable too. This weekend on SNL, she spoke strongly about Alabama's decision related to abortion laws--her worlds were strong, funny, and real demonstrating how crippling it can be for the government to create strict laws related to very complex and personal issues people face.

I am also thinking about a friend of mine whose child faced great compromise in our culture. This friend did everything she could to position her child to become strong in our culture, to proudly be who she is and use her gifts and talents to become successful. I watched this friend work day after day to do what was right and good for her daughter, and I've witnessed her daughter's growing strength, confidence, and positive impact on her own life and community. My friend could have listened to the greater world's judgement and disrespect for her daughter, but instead my friend worked with humility to develop her daughter's potential rather than exasperate the compromises she faced in our sometimes harsh and cruel culture.

So many stories in the news demonstrate how individuals face compromise with strength, humility, intelligence, grace, and drive. Those stories inspire us to be the best that we can be, and to help one another be strong and successful in the face of compromise. Today many are grappling with the culture's either/or mindset that maintains you're in or out, good or bad, weak or strong and so on--we have to act against this mindset, a mindset that criminalizes and punishes many, Instead we have to understand that we're all on multiple continuums, and where we are strong we have potential to help and make better, and where we are weak, we have to look to those good strong people around us to lift us up. It's not a perfect world, but with good actions, attitudes, and think, we can make it better. Onward.

When You Are Ignored: Systematic Error and Potential

I spoke up about a payroll error that I believe cost me a few hundred dollars this year, and no one responded. I could push further to understand this error more, and try to regain those dollars, but the grief it will cause me will be great. In general, no one cares about this problem, a problem that has since since been remedied w/o compensation, and there are bigger problems to solve in that arena. What's an individual to do when ignored?

In a similar situation, I spoke up, but then gained the wrath of those working to remedy situations in that arena--individuals overwhelmed with the number of big problems to solve, and the lack of good effort to make sure those problems don't happen in the first place.

I imagine I am not alone in my situation, as it's likely that organizational errors plague many in systems all over the world. Even though there are many laws and regulations to make sure that work places are run fairly, I'm sure that there are lots of errors, confusion, and errant efforts everywhere.

It is frustrating to lose dollars due to error or unfair practices. It is similarly frustrating to have your inquiries ignored and unsupported. Yet if you speak up too often, you are treated poorly in any group. This is why it is essential for educators to have unions--unions, at their best, are able to help out with problems like this, but often unions are heavily taxed with regard to time, especially if there are lots of problems to solve.

What can individuals do when faced with systematic issues and problems?

First, stay on top of matters--check your paycheck each week to make sure it is accurate. The only reason I knew about my problem in the first place was because a colleague was checking her paycheck and noticed the error. I had not noticed the error because I haven't been checking my paycheck each week. All workers have to take responsibility when it comes to making sure errors are not made with their compensation.

Next, keep notes. In another situation where errors are great, it feels like there may be a situation of gaslighting. This is an arena where we can never seem to do it right--no matter what we do, there is error, and no matter how many times we ask for help and support, we are ignored. It is a suspect situation. I don't know why it continues. So I just keep a record of every event that happens in hopes that at some point there will be clarity here. This happened in another arena during my career, and eventually the situation was resolved. It was helpful to have the notes in order to connect the dots and understand the situation for what it was.

Advocate for clear, streamlined, honest systems of work and support. When systems are too complex, they become problematic. Recently a troubling situation experienced by a colleague was similar to an issue that happened to me earlier in my career. Clearly, the issue is due to a system effort that is messy and lacking clear think and understanding. That system needs a review so that educators in the future don't have to experience similar troubling circumstances.

To teach well depends on fair working conditions and positive supports. Educational systems are complex, often underfunded, and imperfect--there's always more work to do to help systems run with good effort and efficacy.

If you are ignored when faced with troubling circumstances, you have to decide if it's worth it to advocate more. Sometimes it's worth it to fight for a few hundred dollars and sometimes it's not. While you're deciding, it's best to do the good work possible and keep accurate notes about the situation. We have to work together to right the organizations we work in so that we can all do the best work possible in fair and positive ways. Onward.

Helpful or Not Helpful?

My grade-level colleagues are tremendously helpful. They are always there to do the work that makes our team teaching successful. This is awesome! Yet there are others that work with us and support us that are less helpful. What creates the distinction between helpful and not helpful?

Those that are helpful seem to truly understand a teacher's job--they understand the minute-to-minute decision making and time-on-task that makes up our days, and they also understand how much work goes into the job before the school day and after. These helpers tend to be active educators too--people who understand what it takes to teach well. Those who are less helpful are typically removed from the day-to-day teaching work--they often are sequestered in offices or homes distanced from the busyness that is school and that's why their supports are often distanced and less relative to the day-to-day work we do in classrooms and with students regularly.

In the worst case scenarios, these helpers who offer advice and support have little real impact on the quality of school. Their suggestions and efforts to help are met with smiles and pleasant replies, but are rarely implemented or helpful when it comes to what we do in school day after day. In less distressing situations, these helpers may offer a bit of positive support here and there, but nowhere near the kind of help educators who are working with students day after day offer--their distance from children creates situations that make them unaware of what really is going on or what really is needed.

So what's a teacher to do when surrounded by helpers that offer little help and are often more work than the help they supposedly provide?

The first step is to avoid these "helpers" as much as possible since their "help" is actually often more work than it's worth to spend time with with them. The next step is to listen to the ideas and what's available, and receive that help when it is truly helpful. For example sometimes these helpers provide access to resources, events, and time that a teacher would not have otherwise--by working with these "helpers," teachers can access positive supports that do help them to teach better. And, of course, it's critical that educators advocate for system structural change so that most staff in a school are truly making a difference and using their time wisely in ways that really do elevate what we can do with and for children.

In good schools, system leadership and educators work regularly together to discuss, choose, and support initiatives, resources, and other supports to build capacity and better the work we do for students and their families. When "helpers" are distanced too often and too much from the work with students, a great divide is created, a divide that does little to support what's truly possible when it comes to teaching students well. When helpers have a lot to say about what we do with students, but little to no real time interaction or positive efforts with students or educators, there is an unhelpful divide here, one that does not serve to empower our work well, but instead often acts as an anchor with regard to development, inspiration, and good work.

I believe it's integral that schools embrace a servant leadership model where all work to serve the mission which is the students and families we teach. To do that well means that we have to serve each other too. When only some are relegated to doing the work with and for students, and too many are given positions of helpers who advise, but don't get in there to work with and know children and educators, schools don't achieve the goals possible. I think that many school organizations can do better in this regard.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Greater Plan: The Next Three Years

I was reviewing a number of long-range planning documents this morning, documents related to my position as a fifth grade teacher and documents related to my family members' pursuits as well. In many ways, it is yet another point of recallibration in my life and the life of many around me. Rather than that steady plateau time in life, it's a bit of a climb right now--a point of ascent and positive growth.

What does that mean for my career path and efforts. In many ways, it's more of the same, yet to solidify that focus, it takes continued reflection, discussion, and work. Otherwise it's easy to be distracted since the world of teaching and learning is filled with possibilities that move in all kinds of directions.

For me, however, the following efforts will take precedence:

A warm welcoming and organized learning environment
Creating and maintaining an organized, warm, and welcoming teaching/learning environment demands substantial focus, effort, and advocacy. This is a main objective of work right now. Though seemingly simple, this goal is very important to positive teaching and learning.

Science education
We've reached a lot in this area over the past two years, and there's more reaching to do this summer to build on what we've done as a teaching team so far. This reach will be aided by summer reading, study, planning, data analysis, and collaboration.

Math education
Similar to science, there's been substantial effort in this arena by multiple educators, and now it's time to re-organize the documents that lead this work while also developing the work via reading and study.

Relationships and community
Continued efforts to continually develop a strong, supportive, caring learning/teaching community with students, family members, colleagues, administrators, and community members continue. The better we can work together to support one another, the more we'll be able to do and give our students. This is a critical component of good teaching and learning.

Professional learning and respectful advocacy
Continued professional learning as noted above as well as continued respectful advocacy for what is right and good for educators is essential to forwarding the good teaching/learning possible.

Passing the torch
In every way possible, it's important to support the school and system's future leaders. Our schools are filled with bright, enthusiastic, and talented early-career and mid-career professionals. As a teacher in the later part of my career, it's essential to support these kind, creative, and bright teacher leaders.

Next steps
Exploring after-teaching arenas will also be part of my next three-years plan. I'll explore greater areas of writing, math expertise, family support/care, art/illustration, research, and political activity during these years as well. It will be interesting to see the kinds of posts this blog, or perhaps future blogs, will include four years from now. Onward.

The week ahead; last week in May 2019

As I look over the schedule for the week ahead, the theme of presence is clear. More important than anything else this week is to be there and to support the good work of the students and educators around me.

The Play
This will be the primary focus of the start of the week. There are lines to perfect, costumes to complete, and encouragement and praise to share.

Climate Change Projects
Once the play is past, we'll help students complete these projects. Then we'll make a film that illustrates their teamwork and accomplishments.

Solar Ovens
I'm hoping that we can cook our s'mores in solar ovens on Wednesday--let's see if the sun cooperates.

Nature Field Study
We'll spend a day in the field.

Biography research and writing
When there's time students will work on their Global Changemaker projects.

It's a busy week, and we'll take it one positive step to the next positive step. Onward.

Retirement Parties: Points of Reflection

It is that time of the school year when many teachers are attending retirement parties. These retirement parties are points of reflection, time when educators who represent varied years of experience, have a moment to think about their career to date and career to come.

At and around these retirement parties, the parting messages always include gratitude. Those leaving the profession after significant years, always note how grateful they are to have had a meaningful profession, one that placed them with good people and positive work. The day-to-day challenges disappear at the end while the good moments of camaraderie and care rise.

Teaching is such fast-paced work that there is rarely time to stop and see the big picture of what it means to teach, and the fact that the work is overall positive. When teaching, there are always opportunity to better what we do on our own and together, so it's difficult to just step back to see all that we have done day-to-day and year-to-year.

As I near the final years of my teaching career, I'm watching closely how colleagues end their tenure. I'm taking note of their gratitude and grace as they complete final tasks. I see how those of us at or near the end of our careers can support those beginning and mid-career educators. We can encourage them to lead their career in the following ways:
  • Rise high on the pay scale by knowing your contract and the ways you can increase your pay via professional learning and extracurricular stipends
  • Team with one another to strengthen what you all can do to teach children well and care for one another too.
  • Speak up against injustice, and work for the best possible work conditions and salaries. When educators receive fair salaries and enjoy optimal work conditions, they have the opportunity to teach and serve students and their families better.
  • Always be respectful, and when frustration hits, seek the support of your union, laws, colleagues, and supportive leadership. 
  • Don't suffer in silence, but seek positive paths towards betterment with others.
  • Keep the focus of educators' collective work which is to teach children well at the center of what you do each and every day.
A teaching career is challenging work, and work that each and every educator can be proud of. These retirement celebrations and reflections, provide an opportunity for every educator to think about their career including where they have been and where they are going. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Questions can be controversial

I posed an issue and asked a question today. In response, I received a somewhat negative response.

I had no ill intent with the questioning, but I finally got up the courage and time to ask a question about what I have thought of as an unfair practice for about ten years. When this unfair practice was started, there were many unfair practices occurring in my midst. I was frustrated at that time, and unsure about how to best deal with the large number of events that I deemed unfair, and not in keeping with good ethics or equity in my midst.

Since that time, there have been many promising changes. Good leaders on many levels have had the courage and smarts to work for a more ethical and fair organization. There have been many small wins that have resulted in better working conditions for all--this is good. As always there is more to do, but lots of good work has happened so far.

I have asked the question I asked today many times over the past many years. The general response I received was that I had to live with the injustice. Then when I learned more about the situation, I knew I had to speak up as I deemed the situation unfair. On the scale of things in life, this situation is small, but if we don't speak up when small injustices occur, then greater injustices will follow. Onward.

Be there

Presence is an essential feature to any loving relationship.

As you get older, to be present is as important or more important than active participation.

You need to be there when you're needed, but step back to let others take the helm of their own lives and decisions.

To be present means making the space and time so you're available when someone wants to stop by, share a story, or ask a question. It means a less-full routine and more spacious mind-space and life-space that welcomes others.

Being there matters, and to truly be there for others is a conscious choice.

Embrace the joy; the final weeks of the school year

One of the great gifts of teaching young children, is the fact that you are often surrounded by joy. That joy brings light and happiness to life.

Our team has planned a particularly joyful end of the school year, one where children will be singing, acting, playing, creating, exploring, sharing, and teaching each other. Every day is a new adventure, and every day has time for joyful learning and lots of warm, caring teacher support. This is positive.

We spent the late winter completing lots of the challenging, deep work that sets the stage for this joyful stage of the school year. With that in mind, the theme is to embrace the joy in these final weeks. May it continue!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bridging the opportunity gap: making change

Our system is probably going to add a recreational hour to the school program for a number of students who are geographically distanced from the school community. This extra hour is one that will ease parents' childcare needs while providing students with increased academic and social-emotional support and opportunity. This extra hour, if well organized and led, has the potential to bridge an opportunity gap, a gap that exists, in a large part, related to a geographical divide.

While many students in our school community can easily access the school from early morning to early evening, students who are live a long distance from our school do not have that opportunity. That may mean they have to miss out on teachers' extra help sessions, playdates, recreational teams, and more. Providing transportation and oversight for an extra hour a day opens up all kinds of positive opportunities in the academic and social-emotional realms, realms that have the potential of bolstering relationships which, in turn, will bolster opportunity and success.

I am excited about this change, and look forward to supporting it in ways that help my students achieve with happiness and success.

Better the future: How can we support working moms and dads?

I was on the forefront of working moms in the system where I work. There were some working moms before me who actually mostly kept their needs as working moms silent because of the lack of support. I was more outspoken and more supported than them, but there's still room for positive development in this area.

Remembering back, a very kind and traditional leader in the system didn't think I should work as a new mom and inferred that about me on a written report at that time. His notion about that changed when his own daughter became a working mom. 

Similarly, there were a number of additional times when my needs as a working mom were not considered. Those were painful and difficult moments for me--moments when I had to make tough decisions about my work needs and my family needs.

In many work places, working moms continue to be treated in less than ideal ways. And rather than have an attitude of I suffered so you should suffer too, we need to embrace an attitude of betterment.  How can we better the work place for working moms and working dads too--what can we do?

This will not be a question answered by me, but instead, a question answered by the many working moms and dads today, people who need to speak out and advocate for what they need to do their work and take care of their families and selves too. How will they better advocate for support and needs such as space and time for breastfeeding, care for sick children, time to attend their children's special events, adequate health care coverage, and more? 

Long ago women had to leave teaching when they married. After that women had to leave teaching when they got pregnant, and then some had to leave when they had children. Then women with children had to be secretive about their childcare needs, and after that, many like me, had to endure troubling circumstances related to working and parenting at the same time. It's better now, but not as good as it can be. We need to use the energy and emotion we have related to our own suffering and inequitable treatment as working parents to forward better policy and supports for working moms and dads today. This will elevate the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for more people in our country which will, in turn, elevate living and life for all of us. #wecandobetter

To Alleviate Suffering

About ten years ago, I was suffering.

I placed my issue on an Internet search with specific words. I was directed to amazing people, posts, and information that put me on a path to alleviating that suffering. That path, while not easy, has been tremendously powerful in my life and has alleviated that point of suffering.

We all suffer from time to time, and it's in our best interest to discover how we can alleviate that suffering for ourselves, and later, for others who share similar challenges.

As I think of those in my midst who suffer, these are points worth considering:
  • No one is without suffering
  • The degree of suffering may differ
  • Like no other time, the Internet gives us ready access to people and information that may help to alleviate suffering
  • We must actively work to find meaning in our suffering and paths to either alleviate that suffering or to live gracefully with it if that is the only path available
  • Suffering, if dealt with well, can be a great teacher
  • Suffering sometimes acts as a cleanser, wiping clear traits or attitudes that are harmful to your live and impact on others
  • We need to be compassionate to ourselves with regard to our suffering
  • We need to reach out to others for help when we suffer with the knowledge that suffering is a human condition, everyone suffers.
  • To suffer is not a sign of weakness, it is simply something that happens to us, and something that makes us better if we let it.
  • If we have what others need at times of suffering, we must offer that solace or solution to them. If we do not have what they need, we can offer our love, compassion, and understanding. 

What's an American to do?

At this juncture in American politics, what is an average American to do to better their life, their community, their country, and their world?

Stay away from the distractions
Self serving politicians want to distract you with slick marketing techniques. These types of politicians and leaders do not see you as people, but as objects to manipulate to get what they want for their own personal gain and fame. Do not be distracted by their me-first techniques, but instead take the time to actually write down what it is you want and hope for for your life, your community, your country, and the world.

Personally, I believe in a country that elevates "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all." I believe that if we're all doing well, then everyone rises, but if the poorest and most challenged amongst us are forgotten, then we all suffer the consequences. I believe that as a people we are bright enough to figure out the algorithms of good living for our families, communities, states, nation, and world, and I do believe that there's enough to go around if we work at it. I believe to demean the poor and destitute is to demean all of us, but to work with each other to lift the lives of those who have little and suffer the most is to bring us all ahead. I believe that fair taxation can ensure a good standard of living that includes safe neighborhoods, nutritious food, good homes, quality education, accessible health care, and clean soil, water, and air for all of us. This is essential to good living.

The threats, lies, exaggerations, shaming, blaming, theatrics, and storytelling of #trump and his cronies are meant to distract us from our values, our laws, our beliefs, and our good living. Figure out what you believe in, and then work for it.

Understand, Speak up, act, and vote
The recent law in Alabama which treats abortion as a one-size-fits-all situation demeans human rights. Every women who has had a pregnancy knows that abortion is a complex situation and not a one-size-fits-all situation. To truly understand the complexity of what abortion is, Americans unfamiliar with it, have to study all aspects of it and work for what is right and good for a woman's physical and mental health. While I believe that we need to protect life as much as we can, I also know that it is not a simple matter:
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to pregnancy. 
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to health care related to illnesses. 
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to a clean environment that ensures safe soil, water, and air. 
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to peaceful international relations. 
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to what happens on a battlefield. 
  • It is not a simple matter in neighborhoods riddled with violence. 
  • It is not even a simple matter sadly in our schools today.
One-size-fits-all laws that don't take the complexity life issues seriously are meant for their sensational, political power, not for truly helping people gain "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Americans need to make time to deeply understand the issues. They have to be willing to speak up and share their beliefs, understanding, and desires. They must find time to act and also vote.

Aline with good groups and leadership
In our complex world, we cannot advocate for what is right and good by ourselves, we must work with one another to do the best we can. That's why it is critical to aline with groups and people we believe in. We must look at our time and money, and budget some to support our beliefs and our vision for a good world for ourselves and our loved ones.

For me that means supporting organizations that promote human rights in the United States and abroad. I want a world that works for the rights of all, not just a few. I believe we have the capacity to promote good living for everyone, and I believe that good living depends on equitable, fair laws, taxation, and distribution of services and wealth. I don't believe that people have to all have the exact same amount of money, but I do believe all people can have a standard of living that affords them communities with opportunity and the essential ingredients of good living.

You Matter
I have heard so many Americans say, "I can't do anything about it." That's what the powerful, self-serving, me-first politicians and leaders want you to believe. I always remember when a leader like that told me that she did not want voter registration to happen in high schools because then more people would vote. I was astounded by her words, but then realized if all people voted, they would not vote for self-serving politicians like her.  Every vote matters. Every person's acts and words matter. No one can stay silent at this time in American politics and world events. To build and forward a strong country, takes all of us. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to make American great for all, not just a few as our self-serving leaders would like it to be. #wecandobetter