Monday, September 30, 2019

Areas of Responsibility

Schools, like little cities, include multiple individuals and groups all tasked with specific jobs and responsibility. The clearer the mission and goals of the school, the better those groups work with common direction and effort. When the goals and mission are less clear, more scatter and disruption occur.

Similarly, good job descriptions help staff work in ways that matter and contribute to mission and goals, and when those job descriptions are murky, it's likely that the contribution won't be as targeted and successful either. Yet, there does need to be some play in every job description--some flexibility since few responsibilities can occur without shifting, sorting, and intersecting along the way.

I can see many ways to improve and change schools--I have lots of ideas about how things should happen, yet I'm only one person with limited time, energy, and perspective. Hence, it's essential at some point early in each year to identify the parameters, responsibilities, and efforts that describe my job, a job that includes the following elements:

  • co-creating and supporting a warm, welcoming classroom and grade-level team where everyone belongs and everyone continues to develop positive social-emotional skills 
  • a solid, engaging, and meaningful math program that teaches the standards well.
  • a solid, engaging, and meaningful science program that teaches the standards well.
  • personal interest and support for each child's success, happiness, and progress at school
  • professional learning and share in order to continually develop and improve my craft
  • following the weekly routine as established to support each child and the teaching/learning program
That's this year's job description--a clear path to follow. 

Focus: Revisiting the Big Picture

I have to revisit the big picture continuously to get strength to do the work I believe in and live the life I honor. I find myself often digging deep to mine that energy, passion, spirit to push forward in ways that matter. A first step in mining that energy is focusing my writing and thoughts about my vision, goals, and direction.

My overall direction is to use my time in ways that match my main goals in life which include loving and caring for family, doing my work well as a teacher, contributing to the greater community in positive ways, and the kind of self care that gives me positive energy.

Family Care and Love
As always my family takes center stage in my life. My loved ones take me down all kinds of roads I never thought I'd travel and I try to be open minded, welcoming, and interested in those paths. Their collective road, in part, is my road, and I'm open to this adventure. I want to support their good work and relationships as well as help out when I can.

Specifically this means making my home warm and welcoming, sharing in my family members' special interests and events, and making time to comfort, care for, and spend time with those I love.

Doing Good Work
As a teacher, I hope to work with the learning team including students, colleagues, family members, administrators, and the greater community to promote best possible learning experiences, the kind of experiences that result in a strong, caring learning community that respects individual's unique abilities, paths, interests, and challenges while also coming together to enjoy and learn from targeted, students-first, brain-friendly, meaningful learning experiences.

At present this work means making time to focus on each students' needs with regard to math, working with students' creation of showcase portfolios, getting this year's STEAM program off the ground, and working with colleagues to develop our individual and collective professional craft and knowledge.

Contributing to the Greater Community
My work in this regard at this time mainly involves reading, research, writing, and advocating for what I believe is best for our country and its people. I am keeping a close eye on national politics, speaking out against errant leaders and lawless ways, and supporting good, positive leaders--the kinds of leaders who will work for conditions of peace and prosperity in the United States and beyond.

Self Care
Educators know that self care is often a challenge since we have limitless jobs. In this regard, I'm always working to put in place the best possible routine--the kind of routine that helps me to optimize energy to do the work I hope to do.

To keep the focus doesn't mean that life is all fun and games, but instead it's a series of doing the good interesting work as well as the dull needed tasks to keep approaching the good living and contribution I desire.

Homework Review

There are all kinds of discussions, research, and data related to homework at elementary school. At our school, students at fifth grade are still expected to study for about 60 minutes a night including approximately 30 minutes of independent reading, 20 minutes of math practice, and 10 minutes of journal writing. Typically a good percentage of the students complete that daily study and some do not keep up with the expectation. The variance is caused by many, many factors.

I collect the home study and review the work now and then. It's impossible to review the work daily simply because there is not time for that. Most of my outside of teaching hours are spent preparing lessons, following up on emails, collegial collaboration, room clean up, and professional learning. Today, thanks to a day off of school, I'll look through a large number of papers to see who is completing their homework, who is doing a good job with that, who needs extra support, and who has not completed homework.

Later I'll check in with students who did not complete homework to ask them why. Then I'll help the child find the time and support to complete their homework. I'll also check in with students who demonstrate misunderstandings to help them understand the material better. As in any subject, time to practice math helps to build math proficiency and mathematical thinking. I'm working to design the homework as an opportunity to review, practice, and think and write about the main concepts thought.

Homework is assigned once a week. It's a packet of five assignments plus a bonus that students may work on each day or whenever they have time during the week. I give out homework this way to accommodate students' varied after school and family schedules. I'm sure I'll stop to think and write again once this review is complete as the review always directs the learning that follows. Onward.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Growing PBL

For many years our team has been developing an interdisciplinary, local approach to teaching the science standards. We've partnered with Massachusetts Adubon's Drumlin Farm and others to build the project, a project we drafted above in preparation for our presentation at Massachusetts' Sharing for Success Dissemination Fair in November.

The challenge to this project work is that it is not static, but instead it is an evolutionary process that continually changes because of new learning, information, opportunity, and constraints too. For example, due to the Triple E threat in our community, children are not allowed to venture into the woods until the second frost. That means we had to rearrange planned lessons. Also due to new learning related to biomimicry and green chemistry, some of our units have been updated, and analysis of last year's efforts has opened the door to ways that we are able to deepen and better the project.

Deep, impactful project work demands time for all learners including teacher-learners, student-learners, community-learners, family-learners, and administration-learners to constantly revisit the project parameters, content, activities, and focus in a regular way that includes active learning, presentation, assessment, reflection, analysis, revision, and development.

As I worked on that process today, I found myself shifting, sorting, deleting, and adding activities to build a better unit. Of course colleagues and students will engage in that activity too, and via our collaboration we will put together a good framework for the 2019-2020 roll-out of this worthwhile project/problem based learning.

How do you evolve your units of study in meaningful, collaborative ways? What processes are in place to make this evolution timely, purposeful, engaging, and in line with system and state expectations as well as students needs and interests. I'll be reading more about this process and I welcome your ideas.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday Musings: September 27, 2019

It was a roller coaster week as we maneuvered through many changes, stretches, and new efforts, a week that ended wonderfully with a great team reflection, paper-chain-making team building activity, buddies and PLC.

Next week will find us evaluating and playing with numerical expressions in a number of ways, reading great books, working on portfolios, and trying out our first math performance task. Now for a bit of a reprieve with a lovely weekend.

School sickness

Ten minutes into my lunch break, the illness took root. Ugh! No teacher likes to catch the viruses and bacterial infections that sometimes run rampant in any school community, but I got caught. Last year I went most of the year without any school-born illnesses. This year, I got caught in the first month.

It's a good reminder to wash my hands regularly, instruct children about what to do with their tissues and about washing their hands, and keeping a healthy schedule. One reason I was a ready victim is because the days before I pushed harder than I should have--balance is always a struggle since the opportunity to do more and better at school is a limitless proposition.

The good news is that our schedule is finally in place, staffing complete, and program goals and efforts positioned. Now it's time to dig in to get to know our learners more and help each and everyone of them to learn with engagement, relevance, and success. 

The days ahead will find me looking at the work each child has done so far, charting their strengths and working towards helping out in their areas of need. Students will work on their portfolios in the week ahead as well as we prepare for upcoming parent conferences. Onward. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Looking forward; every step matters

I introduced students to a new concept in math today. Few had seen the concept before. It was interesting to see how the variety of students met this new learning. Some were eager to get started, others asked lots of questions, and still more treaded gently into the new ideas. That didn't surprise me. When new concepts are introduced, children meet the new learning in a variety of ways. Of course, I want to coach all students to have an open mind and willingness to try out new concepts without fear of making mistakes or getting it wrong. I'll work to teach that in the days ahead.

Later in the day I attended a thoughtful professional learning session. Sadly, I had to leave a little early since I picked up a virus that's been going around, one that results in lots of aches and pains, and surprisingly unlike other illnesses this one comes with some insomnia too.

Next week we'll spend time review the new concepts taught this week, putting together portfolios, reading and writing. Monday is a welcome day off from school, a good day to catch up. The start of school this year has been particularly busy for a myriad of reasons, but it seems like the schedule is starting to become a routine as we move the learning and teaching ahead.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Anatomy of a Lesson

I had the privilege to observe a colleague teach today. I noticed so much related to good teaching as well as questions to consider when teaching a lesson.

Engagement matters--the lesson was very engaging.

This is always a tricky part of teaching a lot of students at once.

Lesson Range
This is also really challenging given the diversity of skill and ability in a big class.

Seat Time
It's important to make sure students are not sitting for too long.

Connection to the Standards/Teaching Focus
While it is okay to not always be completely focused on the standards, it's helpful to focus on the standards at one time to help children deepen their learning through similar-topic focus and practice.

Learning from colleagues

Today the math coach will teach all of the math classes. She has good rapport with students. I'm looking forward to learning from observation as she introduces students to new math expectations as well as a lesson to pique their mathematical thinking, curiosity, and skill. This will also give me a chance to observe the students as they learn. I look forward to this opportunity.

Growing Programs for Student Success

As I've noted before one of my favorite aspects of teaching is growing programs for student success. I like what we can do together as grade-level teams of students, families, educators, administrators, and community members to develop programs that serve students well today and into their futures. I was thinking a lot about this focus when I woke up early this morning. This year our team is focused on growing the following programs in the following ways:

Deeper, better math teaching
  • More performance tasks with a math study process approach including problem/project work, teacher/peer edits, and share that includes discussion, debate, and displays.
  • Potential revision of our grade-level RTI efforts
  • Deeper efforts to teach all standards well
Teaching science standards with a greater interdisciplinary approach
  • Developing our environmental science efforts throughout all aspects of the curriculum
  • Bringing our science teaching full circle with more and better student writing, analysis, reflection, problem solving, project work, and presentation
A deeper, greater commitment to fostering a positive readerly life for every student 
  • More conferring with students about reading
  • More time for independent reading
  • Helping students to find just right books
  • More time for read aloud
A more explicit approach to social-emotional teaching and learning 
  • Focus on teamwork with greater specificity, depth, and practice
  • Focus on metacognition with attention to reflection, student portfolios, and student-led parent-student-family conferences
  • Focus on growth mindset including perseverance, positive self talk, asking questions, and willingness to risk, make mistakes, and learn from them. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Better Day

I made time to consult a few colleagues and to think deeply about yesterday's struggles. The result of the consultation and analysis pinpointed the issues:
  • Stick to the support schedule
  • Revise strategies to fit this year's class
  • Stick to my job, and don't expect to be able to do the job of another
  • Rethink the Monday routine given the fact that some students are arriving at school on Monday a bit unready for the week ahead
Today was a much better day.

Next steps including tightening up the support schedule so everyone knows where to be and what their role is and spending time next Monday (a day off) catching up on responding to students' homework efforts. Onward. 

Yesterday's Struggle

I came home a bit deflated yesterday after a somewhat tough day of teaching. I thought deeply about what happened, and recognized the following efforts that require attention.

You can't do someone else's job
Due to a staffing shortage, I jumped in to help, but the reality is that a teacher's job is a full-time job leaving little time to help another without sacrificing your own job's requirements. Today I won't get caught in that trap.

Supports are available for a reason
It's essential to well organize and implement available supports with regard to student learning and well being. Today during our student service meeting, I'll have a chance to review those supports and work with others to make sure those supports are used to help students have a successful, positive school week. When all students are supported well, there's more time and ability to teach all children.

Every class demands a somewhat different focus and routine
It's that time of year when you begin to understand what the class needs to be successful as a group. What worked last year may not work this year. I need to tweak a few routines in order to better organize and teach this year's students--they're profile demands some differences from last year's routine. Every year this is true.

Score Review: Teaching Well

I took a look at the published MCAS scores from last year. I'm always disappointed because I want to see all of my students reach proficiency or exceed expectations, and as with most schools and grade levels, there were still some students who were progressing towards meeting standards or not meeting the standards. A deep look at the math scores showed that there were a couple of question types we could have improved on, and an area or two we can strive for deeper teaching. Late year assessments last spring demonstrated the need for deeper teaching and more constructed responses in some areas, while the question type students struggled the most with was a surprise--I didn't imagine the standards to mean that kind of reach. Of course we've remedied that with regard to this year's program plans. I was happy, however, to see an increase in students who exceeded expectations and a decrease in those not meeting the expectations. 

As always, the students who did the best on MCAS generally did their homework, showed great attention in class, came in for extra help when available, and put extra energy into projects, bonus assignments, and more. Those who struggled the most, and did not face significant complexity in learning for multiple reasons, generally did not do their homework, were absent more than other children, showed less or little attention in class, and did not take advantage of extra help sessions or bonus learning. 

Further, it seems that our science efforts were well directed last year, and we have a lot in place to develop those efforts more in the year ahead. 

What I like about the MCAS scores, is that it helps me to look deeply at each standard and get an overview of how we did and what we can do to deepen our efforts to teach that standard well. What's frustrating is that you can work really hard and smart, and still not achieve what you hope for due, in part, to extraneous circumstances such as students who miss too  many days of school or students who are difficult to teach due to behavioral issues, issues that are typically complex. 

Today, in school, I'll tell students about what it takes to learn well, and then we'll continue down our standards-based math learning path--a path that includes all standards taught in a myriad of ways. I'll also put aside a day soon to review students' homework to date to get an idea about who is doing that work and who is not. 

And I'll work with colleagues to make sure we have a solid program, a program that includes the following elements:
  • quality time on task with learning each day
  • rich learning experiences
  • a variety of formal and informal assessments used to inform instruction
  • good support for students who need extra or different instructional supports
  • a good amount of learning response
Helping every child to do their best and master all the standards is a much like climbing a mountain--it's that day-by-day ascent that requires good planning, focus, and apt response. 

Monday, September 23, 2019


After talking with a friend, I realized that I had read the entire situation wrong. What I thought to be true was not true at all. I think that most of us see situations through our own lens first and may forget to refocus as we realize that our lens is not the right lens for the situation. I remember when this happened to me a long time ago. I was feeling sorry for someone guessing that they, like me at the time, may have a tight budget. That's when a friend awakened me to the fact that I was all wrong--clearly as a friend demonstrated evidence to the contrary of my belief, I knew that I had been reading the situation wrong.

I knew the pieces of the puzzle didn't fit right. I made an assumption, and because that assumption was uncomfortable, I reached out to others to give me their ideas--ideas that clearly demonstrated I had read the situation wrong. Time to refocus and prepare for the days ahead.

A Tough Teaching Day

There's no way around it, some teaching days are tough.

Today was one of those days.

What made it tough?

First, it was the confluence of needs that arose all at once--while I was trying to help students make sense of math concepts, other children were displaying needs in the social-emotional realm. There was one of me and a number of needs at once. It's frustrating to have to stop the learning to deal with social-emotional issues, but as we all know, it's part of the jobl

Next, it's that time of year when we're moving from get-to-know-each-other activities to the hard work of learning. While I try to make lessons engaging, the truth is an engaging lesson for one child may not be an engaging lesson for another child, and some concepts simply don't lend themselves well to pure joy--some concepts demand hard work to learn and not every child is eager for hard work.

There was also the factor that in our full inclusion school, students receive multiple services and it takes time to coordinate all those services in just right ways--that challenge is particularly steep at this time of year as we solidify the routines for all service delivery.

Having an extra busy weekend and a few other unknowns also added to the mix. Tough days like this also have a way of helping you see what children need. For example, today's math lesson demonstrated tome that some students need more structure than I originally thought. It also reminded me that for children to work well independently, they have to clearly understand the parameters. As Ruth Charney taught, don't assume anything.

Monday is my most difficult day of the week this year so I'm sure tomorrow will be a better day. Onward.

Reviewing the TEAM in STEAM

At fifth grade, teamwork is a primary emphasis.

In the book, Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler tells the story of a California study where students' scores rose significantly once the school focused on teaching and encouraging greater teamwork.

Teamwork and collaboration are not necessarily natural abilities. Instead to foster positive teamwork and collaboration, explicit teaching and practice is required.

This week and next we'll continue the focus on this essential skill for success in modern society with the resources on these pages:
Also, during our student service planning meeting we'll discuss how we can better coach students in this arena. This is a positive focus with regard to preparing students for the increasingly interdependent world that they live in. 


Today I'm thinking about our STEAM efforts--the many ways we'll forward science, tech, engineering, and art activities throughout the year.

What will we do?

Classroom STEAM Set-Up
There's work to do to update the classroom for STEAM study including reorganizing outdoor investigation tools, making space for our indoor gardens, purchasing a class composting container, and arranging science-related books. I'll devote the back corner of the classroom to this effort.

Guiding Questions
  • What is STEAM? 
  • What is the TEAM in STEAM? How can we be effective team members? Introduction to Team roles. 
  • What tools will we use to study science and how do we use and care for those tools?
  • What books can inform our STEAM study?
  • How can we be a green classroom?
Initial Focus and Projects
  • What is survival? What is important when it comes to survival?
  • Introduction to plant science and creating an indoor garden.
  • Introduction to decomposition and creating effective composting efforts and composters?
  • Introduction to water cycles, studying our local watershed, and making water filters.
  • Introduction to solar energy, creating solar ovens.
  • Introduction to the history of the land, and how studying the land gives us clues about that history. 

Long term projects and efforts
  • Climate change study and related projects 
There's lots to do to update our study from last year. We'll begin this week with a meeting with Drumlin Farm naturalists to study and plan for the year ahead. Onward. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Weekends: Time Management

Most of us look forward to the weekends, and weekends typically mean time for loved ones, catching up on chores, and preferred events. Those of us who thoroughly enjoy weekends are also often left with the feeling that the weekend is simply not long enough--we yearn for another day. This very desire is what creates the need to think about managing the weekend so there's time for loved ones, time for chores, time for preferred events, and time for self too. We can't do it all.

This weekend, my schedule was too full. I just couldn't push myself to do the last item on my list--an important item, but one I simply had no more energy for. In hindsight, it was untenable to complete such a full list anyways. I should have known better.

In the future, I need to think about weekends with a bit more detail and depth. A good weekend routine will probably help, a weekend routine that includes time for family, time for chores, time for fun, and time for self. Onward.

Limitless Opportunity

I often write that when I look out or in, I see limitless opportunity to do what is right and good. The challenge with this is the fact that time and energy are limited. We can't be all things, and as best we can, we have to prioritize and invest in actions that matter. Sometimes, in real life, this looks like a to-do list of ten things when there's energy for only five. What gives in situations like this?

This is when we prioritize by doing what's best for our families, our own health, our commitments, and working outward for others as time and energy permit. We can only do our best and stretch as much as we can, but we can never do it all. Onward.

The week ahead: last week in September

Google's million dollar study provides a great rationale for our early year focus on teamwork.

Every week has its focus. This week's math teaching focus will include a review of divisibility rules with a quiz and the start of our our numerical reasoning introductory math study including the weekly homework practice. We'll also reach deeper with regard to our teamwork efforts with a teamwork assessment and team activity, and we'll continue our emphasis on independent reading and read aloud. My colleagues will engage students with a focus on students' readerly life and writing survival stories as a follow-up to our team read aloud, Hatchet, and a a complement to our survival environmental education theme and study. 

During our student service meeting we'll focus on learning more about specific students' needs and interests as well as creating a shortlist of priorities--what is it that we want to help students with in regards to overall school success and happiness, and at PLC, we'll likely discuss how we want to organize the dates and agenda for upcoming parent-student-teacher conferences. With regard to professional learning, our main focus will be meeting with evaluators to review our year-long teaching/learning goals and research, discussion, and revision to our year-long environmental education study including planning and prepping for upcoming field studies, expert visitors, STEAM activities, and other science/social study learning experiences.

Further I plan to attend this week's school committee meeting as part of our local union's focus on community involvement and positive advocacy with regard to creating and maintaining the best possible work conditions and supports for optimal teaching and learning. I'll work with one child to build his ability to set goals and work towards those goals in meaningful ways that include a review of skills taught and successful strategies for new learning.

This week also marks our first school-wide assembly where the whole community gathers to recognize birthdays, sing the school song, say the Pledge of Allegiance, and learn about and share school-wide initiatives. Fifth graders will contribute by stacking chairs after the event.

Personally, I hope to stay the course with a positive, energy-filled focus on the efforts above in order to serve and partner with the students and colleagues well. Every teaching week is filled with numerous activities, interactions, decisions, triumphs, and challenges too. To make time to envision the days ahead is one way to stay the course of positive teaching and learning on your own and with those you partner with and serve. Onward.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Goal Setting: Massachusetts' Educator Standards

Years ago when Massachusetts came out with the criteria for excellence in education, I did a deep dive into the information by analyzing each standard and publishing my analysis in this TeachFocus website. The result of my analysis proved to me that the standards were good criteria for teaching well. The next summer, I revisited the standards and created a document that provided an easy reference for educators' analysis of the standards with the website: Reflect for Success (The document is clearly ready for an update since it was written five years ago.)

Since that time I have adopted a positive strategy for goal setting that matches the expected criteria for Massachusetts' educator evaluator success:
  1. Review the standards in view of my work during the summer months.
  2. Draft goals on my own online portfolio during the summer for the following year. 
  3. Track efforts towards meeting the goals on the portfolio page throughout the year.
  4. Use the portfolio page as a point of discussion with my evaluator throughout the year.
  5. Transfer information from the portfolio page to evaluator's documentation as required.
  6. Be on the lookout for professional activities, books, workshops, and other efforts to feed my professional goals throughout the year and apply as needed or interested.
  7. Try to engage in at least one or two professional learning efforts each summer that match my goals for the year ahead.
This has been a good professional process for updating my career goals and working towards bettering my craft and contribution. I share this with others as I know it's difficult to keep up with all the work required of the teaching profession and this is one way to target and streamline your efforts. 

Next week's focus: Last week in September 2019

It's true, the 68 children I teach and the many colleagues I work with have infiltrated my thoughts, dreams, and daily work--I woke up thinking about how to better plan the week to make space for every child's needs as well as for apt collegial efforts.

We have a terrific grade-level team with many, many dedicated staff members, families, and students. Now the key is to revise the schedule in ways that accommodate students' individual needs and interests more, and to maximize the collective teaching efforts of all the staff involved. What will we do?

Push in or Push out
This week we'll work to focus on best times to push in and push out with instruction which means when does a child learn best in the busy room of 22 students and 2 or more adults and when does a child learn best in a more quiet space with less people. Fortunately we have the staffing to make some of this possible. I looked at the schedule and based on last week's observations, during some of the noisier, more collaborative activities, I'll give a few children the choice to work in a quieter space with a lower teacher-student ratio. I think those students will prefer that choice.

Time to Talk and Process
There were a few issues that occurred last week during the busyness of classroom life, issues that I could not easily attend to for a number of reasons including the fact that I was taking care of many and orchestrating a number of activities at the same time. We have time and staffing in the schedule that makes time for deeper, more targeted conversation with individuals about more serious issues--issues that require more than a five minute conflict resolution. We'll plan those talks so we can deal with a few issues while those issues are small.

Student Study Review
The students have worked hard on a number of efforts since the start of school, and I need to make time this weekend to review that work. I want to see who is following along and who may have misunderstandings or did not make the time to complete the assignments. Then I'll follow up with those students to see how we might help them complete the needed practice. In some cases we may need to provide extra help and in other cases it may mean that we simply have to modify or enrich the expectations. A review is the first step to determining this.

Room Renovation
I write about this all the time. The room's basic set-up works well, but there's a need to clean up and re-organize a few corners and spaces. I'll work on that with help from the students next week as well. The classroom continually requires change and updating as the learning year moves along.

Take the Job Seriously
Every choice we make and act we do as educators matter. It's important to take the structures, opportunities, and expectations in place seriously and work within that framework to help every child learn with as much depth, engagement, and success as possible.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday Musings: September 20, 2019

The students sat with rapt attention as they listened to Greta Thunberg speak in her TedTalk. Typically during most lessons there is someone who is less interested, but not for Greta's talk. They were all engaged. When children pay attention that way, you know what they are paying attention to speaks to their hearts, minds, and their youthful value with regard to truth and justice.

Later they used Greta's words and the information relayed via a number of related videos to draft and craft wonderful posters--posters that they would carry as students in our school marched to show their will to care for our planet, Earth.

This was one of many good lessons and learning experiences this week, a week that included a Factor Game tournament, Venn diagram focus on factors and multiples, evaluating coding on a 100's chart, reading the wonderful read aloud Hatchet, independent reading, art, physical education, tech class, music, instrumental, writing, and more. A rich week. A busy week. And a week that included lots of outdoor games and fun too.

The week brought challenge too as we navigated a building leader's illness, attended a number of after school meetings, and strived to facilitate just-right learning experiences for each and every child. It was, all-in-all, a joyful week with the students and grade-level colleagues as we worked together to teach every child.

Next week will find us diving deeply into the topic of numerical expression and the behavior of numbers and math operations. Students will create their showcase portfolios and evaluate their own ability with regard to teamwork then test out that evaluation as they participate in a team activity. They'll also read, write, and attend all their specials. With regard to professional learning, my colleague and I will meet with the Massachusetts Audubon Drumlin Farm naturalists and science teachers from a neighboring community to develop our local environmental/climate change education activities. We'll also participate in the weekly student service meeting and PLC. And, we'll still work to solidify positive routines for students so that most time can be spent with worthy learning.

There's lots to do with regard to teaching each child well, and fortunately we have what we need to do the job well. Onward.

Friday, Friday - September 20, 2019

We've got a busy and exciting day planned:

  • Math practice with Symphony Math
  • A Factor Game Tournament using brackets
  • Completing our wonderful read aloud, Hatchet
  • Completing our Protect Earth posters
  • Singing a Protect Earth song
  • Having an Earth March at the end of the day - joining with the world's Climate Change marchers
  • A PLC to discuss our math efforts
  • A meeting to discuss fifth grade celebratory events and traditions
Time to get this magnificent day started. Onward. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thinking ahead; working together; being flexible

In schools, it's best to think ahead, work together, and be flexible too. This is not always easy. Without thinking ahead there may be missed depth and opportunity. Yet without flexibility we may miss opportunity too. For the most part, working together is essential. There's so much to do in schools, that no one can do it all. By working together we assure that almost all the good work gets done, and students and families are served well.

I'm thinking about that today as we revise a few scheduled events to make room for a new and timely activity. At first, I didn't want to make the move, but the momentum grew and it became clear that changing the plans is the right thing to do. On the other hand, there's a deep endeavor the team is committed to, and though we may have to change a date here or there, we won't change the overall learning goals since we've already seen positive signs of student engagement and good learning. When children show us these signs, we know we're on the right path, and the children's positive energy inspires our efforts as well.

Today is a big day of teaching--there's lots to teach, coach, and encourage. To teach well take a lot of good energy, focus, and hard work. Onward.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Why Read?

Tomorrow students and I will focus on reading. We'll discuss why people read? We'll discuss how to read quietly in class. We'll focus on any questions and challenges students face with regard to reading, and we'll watch the videos above and review together this article about successful people who read.

Then as students find cosy places to read, I will observe to see who is lost in a book and who may need a little direction to rind a "just right" book. I'm excited about the this TeamFive initiative--an initiative that will help students become the wonderful, insightful, productive, and happy readers that they can be.

Traveling the teaching path 2019-2020

There is rarely a dull day in school. Every day is filled with new decisions, challenges, and opportunities. This energy-packed effort is one reason why I like teaching--I didn't like sitting at a desk all day in the business job I had before I became a teacher.

The challenge is to continually navigate the path in ways that contribute to your overall goals and craft as the new decisions, challenges, and opportunities arise.

Looking down the path, I see a many ways that I'll enrich the learning in the days ahead.

Math Teaching
We're reaching in to gain deep understanding of the divisibility rules and how to use those rules. We'll engage in a class math talk about this today, then practice playing a class Factor Game using our coded 100's chart as a helpful tool. Later this week, I'll review the use of Venn diagrams with children as we explore factors, multiples, and divisibility rules more, and after that we'll have our Factor Game tournament. Next week students will take a short divisibility rules quiz so I can assess what they've learned and we'll move onto learning about numerical expressions in many varied ways including the use of performance assessments--a collaborative approach including student creativity, expression, peer-to-peer editing, teacher-student editing, and presentation.

Science: Survival
Next week the team will spend our science/social studies days focused on portfolio work and more team building, and then the week after that, we'll begin our Survival series with a number of standards-based environmental science activities. I'll spend some time reviewing that unit of study in preparation for our Monday collegial meeting, Thursday's meeting with MA Audubon Drumlin Farm naturalists, the October 2nd online meeting with the DESE team that will work with us as we engage in a program evaluation pilot, and for our participation in Massachusetts' Department of Education Sharing for Success Dissemination Fair on October 8th.

Community Building
I continue to embed a number of SEL lessons from our team collection of SEL lessons and information. So far we've discussed resilience, team building, growth mindset, the history of skin, and the fact that no prejudice is allowed here. I will continue to embed these resources regularly to build students' capacity to learn in successful, student-centered, positive ways.

Read Aloud
The entire fifth grade has been reading, Hatchet, which serves as a great mentor text for discussing story elements, choosing just-right books, writing narratives, and our survival-themed standards based environmental science work.

Class Challenges
As with any class, there are always problems to solve and areas to improve. At present those challenges include the following:
  • Following the daily schedule. Most students are doing a great job with this, but some still need help and reminders.
  • Listening. I'm trying to do my part by not talking for too long or too much, and I'm working with students to do their part as positive, engaged, active listeners.
  • Staying on task: Again most students are staying on task with the learning efforts, but some still need a bit of coaching related to this.
  • Asking questions. I encourage students not to stay stuck and to ask questions instead. I'll continue to coach students in this way.
  • Respectful use of classroom materials: While some students are always respectful and helpful with regard to using classroom materials and cleaning up, others need more coaching.
  • Coverage issues: A few of our grade-level coverage issues need revisiting to make sure we have the best possible coverage routines--we'll attend to that as a team.
All in all, we're off to a great start. The challenges are typical challenges that most educators work at in day-to-day teaching. Onward. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Good analysis; many points of view

In school life, there are many points of view. There are also many factors that affect student and school success. Multiple points of views, multiple contributing factors makes good analysis, a shortage of time for analysis, and often the lack of a good process make good analysis challenging when it comes to school decisions and issues.

In the near future, I'll meet with a couple of administrators to advocate for time to discuss potential revision to our RTI process. My research related to the benefit of good relationships, consistency, and knowing children well with regard to success in education points me to a desire to change our RTI model. I believe we can do a better job, yet I don't have all the answers and would like to host a conversation that invites the perspectives from the entire team in a thoughtful, inclusive way. I look forward to sitting down with the administrators to advocate for time and support to discuss this idea. I hope that they will support this idea so that we can all hear the multiple view points, experience, and knowledge the team has related to the issue. I believe that this is a decision that will profit from a team approach rather than the decision of one or only a few.

When we teach each day, we also work with multiple points of view. Children have varied interests and preferences when it comes to learning. At the elementary school we want to honor students' preferences and interests while also embedding well-researched, successful strategies and giving children an experience to learn in many ways that they may not naturally choose--ways that could later become their preferences.

Our staff, led by our building union representatives, are meeting more frequently to share ideas about what's important for our school. It is helpful to hear my colleagues' perspectives about many issues, some of which I share and some for which I think differently. In many ways our staff is similar, but in many ways we are different too. I believe this is one reason why we are a strong, collective teaching staff.

Communication Patterns: Teaching/Learning Success

Educators know that optimal communication is at the center of good teaching and learning. Putting in place a number of communication patterns and structures support this integral element of a successful program. I thought about this today as I updated a number of communication pieces.

PLC Notes
Notes that include the agenda, attendance, and important notes about our weekly Professional Learning Community meeting.

Student Planning Notes
Notes that include attendance, agenda, and action items related to student services.

Student Data List
A list of student data points. This list informs staffing, curriculum, and teaching decisions as well as parent/student coaching and communication.

Team To-Do List
This is a list we add to throughout the week to manage our grade-level team communication and efforts.

Team Calendar
This is a calendar that we keep to inform the entire teaching/learning team of important dates.

Team Website
This is basically our grade-level virtual classroom which is available 24-7 to all students, families, educators, administrators, and community members. The website includes a weekly newsletter, homework, learning menu of current learning efforts, and much more.

Weekly Newsletter Slideshow
Each week we add a new slide to the Team newsletter presentation. Slides include the latest information.

Daily Schedule
The daily schedule is posted each morning for students to review as they enter the classroom.

Planning document
I have a document with a weekly template where I add the week's plans and links. I share this document with the grade-level team to help all those who work with students in my class to know what's happening. This helps specialists to match their efforts to the classroom plan.

Good communication relies on choosing a few structures that will knit the teaching/learning community together in ways that matter. It's essential that all team members know what has happened, what's going on, and what will happen in a timely, concise, and accessible manner. This is one way to build and strengthen the kind of teamwork that lays a foundation for successful teaching and learning.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Follow the leaders; follow the students

Do you let the students lead you?

I often let students lead me. I typically introduce a learning menu, and see where students take it. I try to respond to their interest, questions, and needs as we engage in the menu's many choices.

I began the year with a team building exercise, and that led to a discussion about divisibility rules which led to a mini unit about divisibility rules including a number of exercises, a game, and a quiz to assess what we learned.

When we engage in kid-watching or student observation, we can see who is catching on and who is not. We can gauge the pace of the lesson and the learning, and use that meter to decide on next steps.

This week, we'll study the 100's chart that students coded with symbols related to the divisibility rules. Then we'll notice how students may use the chart to help them play Illuminations' Factor Game. We'll squeeze in the first of our numerical reasoning lessons too, a lesson about the meaning of operations, and after that we'll engage in a Factor Game tournament.

Next week we'll dig into the numerical reasoning unit with greater strength and practice. It's difficult to predict beyond that because we'll have to see where the students take us. Onward.

Focus: None of us can be all things

I write about the need to focus as an educator often. I do this because there are great temptations to deviate from your primary responsibilities since education offers limitless avenues to travel. As my mind wandered into many arenas this morning, I needed to remind myself that the professional expectation/responsibility list is full, and it's my job to travel that path without great deviation.

Naysayer response

On Twitter, I face a number of naysayers as I share political perspectives. I always think about what those naysayers write since I know that like everyone else out there, I don't have the monopoly when it comes to knowing. When those naysayers respond with disrespect, ridicule, and unsupported arguments, however, I mostly block those people from my Twitter feed. I simply don't have time or energy to entertain arguments from rude, disrespectful, and untruthful people.

The same is true in my day-to-day life. There is too much good work to do than to spend time with those that ridicule, disrespect, and speak in untruthful ways. I don't have time for that.

There will always be naysayers. Often, the naysayers have something of substance to say--a point of view that is important to hear and consider, but sometimes naysayers speak against your words simply to create reaction, cause disruption, and annoy. These words and actions are not worth our time and attention.

In the days ahead, there are a number of issues I will consider with those that disagree with me. In one case, I am interested in listening to the disagreements since I want to understand the issue fully. This issue is a pedagogical issue that I believe we can improve. Many dedicated educators have thoughtful perspectives about the matter. I believe that if the team is willing to entertain the discussion, we will achieve a better model for that specific work we do--a model that reflects our multiple vantage points, experience, and will to serve students well.

In another area of discord, I will more carefully navigate the work path in order to communicate with care and follow up on the details related to the effort. This is integral work that demands the best we can do.

With a politically charged year to come, there will be significant discord as people support various candidates for President of the United States and other offices. In these areas, I'll listen to respectful debate and commentary, continue to revisit my decision of whom to vote for and whom to support with the intention of supporting the best possible candidates for office, candidates who share the vision I have for our country's and community's future.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The long road: teaching and learning well

In school life it's easy to lose your focus since there are so many potential avenues to travel, but to teach well demands that you use good focus as you develop and perform your primary tasks. This focus is supported by long range vision--the path you hope to travel to accomplish the teaching/learning goals you've set.

I thought of this today as my attention was turned away from my primary goals. So I thought I'd take the time to list those goals as I plan ahead.

Rich, Deep STEAM Teaching
My team is working on this goal. We are receiving state and community support for this goal. There are endless potential paths to take, and choosing the best paths will be a focus of our grade level team work. The next steps include the following:
  • Focusing in on the TEAM in STEAM with students.
  • Engaging in the state and MA Audubon professional learning events
  • Reviewing and adjusting the teaching path with the team given a number of unexpected twists in the teaching agenda this year. 
  • Updating curriculum, lessons, and schedule to match the revised path.
Long term, I want to continue to work on this aspect of the grade-level teaching since it is an area of school life that well prepares students for what they need to know and do in the future with regard to teamwork, leadership, project based problem solving, and subject area knowledge, content, and skill.

Math Performance Assessments and Project Based Learning
I want to continue to evolve the math teaching and learning program to match new cognitive research and math teaching and learning research. I truly enjoy teaching math and recognize that there are countless ways to teach the subject well. Specifically this year I'll focus in on the addition of performance based tasks to build students' ability to bring the learning to mastery in ways that they are able to easily present, discuss, and teach the standards-based concepts included in the curriculum. I have a number of books to read related to this effort. Further, I want to work to evolve our RTI efforts in ways that better support student learning. My long term goal in this regard is to simply deepen and better my ability to teach and lead math education.

A Culturally Responsive, Engaging, Meaningful, and Welcoming Learning Environment and Program
My third goal is to continue to better the teaching/learning environment and experiences for students with my team and others. I plan to read White Fragility next as part of this work. I also plan to revisit my notes related to Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain in this regard and embed the important learning into the teaching/learning program. Integrating and updating the grade-level SEL website and lessons and reviewing my one-word (see above) are also efforts that will support this work.

Tech File Organization
My tech files are filled with countless lessons. I want to weed and organize that garden in the days ahead as well. 

These are the three meaningful goals that I will work on during the final years of my teaching career--I am very excited about these areas of school life, and look forward to deepening what I can do in this regard. Onward. 

Helping every child achieve

The main focus of educators is to help every child in their charge to succeed in holistic, positive, promising ways.

What does that mean?

First, it means that you provide students with a comfortable, welcoming, affirming environment in which to learn. We want children to think of school as a positive, welcoming place where they belong.

Next, it means forwarding a good plan and schedule each day, each week, and throughout the year so that children have the opportunity to learn the knowledge, concept, and skill that has been prioritized by the many you work with and for.

After that it means using keen observation to notice every child including if they are happy, what they need, and how you can help. That also means taking the time to engage the children in conversation, ask them questions, hear their stories, and respond to their needs.

And, it means working with the teaching team to determine best strategies, schedules, and supports to best serve students and families together.

This is a positive focus, one that I want to focus on each and every school day. Onward.

School Starts: Affirming and Repositioning

The start of the school year finds educators repositioning a lot--repositioning schedules, staffing, classroom arrangements, curriculum programs, and more. The repositioning is the positive result of getting to know who the learners are and what they need and desire.

The start of the year is also a time to affirm that which is working well--the keepers the match who the students are and what they need and desire.

This morning I revisited the schedule, and although I'd like to rush to the next topics, I know that it is in everyone's best interests to complete the learning efforts we've started before starting new efforts.

With renewed focus, the week ahead will find me doing the following:

  • Prepping for Wednesday's reading inservice related to reading workshop. Our team will prep the team app so we can think about this and work on it with a collaborative focus.
  • Prepping for continued teamwork focus in science and social studies, and prepping for upcoming science and social studies lessons.
  • Completing lots of exercises and assignments related to divisibility rules, multiples, factors, and multiplication facts. 
  • Working on online tech programs.
  • Continued read aloud.
  • Prep for upcoming professional learning efforts. 
As I often write about, it's essential that we have the best possible schedule so that there's good time for teaching the students and the collaboration of the many educators that serve the students. Onward. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Rich Collegial Conversation

After reading Zaretta Hammond's book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, I thought that a graffiti teamwork project would be just right. I did a little research and forwarded the project with my students. The project was a success. I then talked about the project with colleagues and everyone added something new to the project including more color, a helpful video, the chance for students to try it on their own first--all additions to the project that made it better. We discussed the videos and what worked well and what didn't work. Overall the lesson with its many iterations was a success and our good conversation improved the activity for each other.

When educators get together and discuss the work they do with and for students, it is a rich conversation, far richer than when people who rarely work with students instruct educators. Yes, there's lots to learn from experts, but in general, the more educators make time to develop the teaching/learning program together for their students, the better those programs will be for the children in the context in which teachers and students teach and learn.

Working for you or working against you?

Schools are busy places, and in some cases people are working for you and in other situations people are working against you. Sometimes same people both work for and against you dependent on what it is that you need and the groups those people belong to.

When people work for you, they are always working with you to try to meet mutual goals--they share in your desire to teach every child well. When people work against you, they continually put up barriers to good learning, access, and acceptability. In many ways, these barriers acts as hurtles making teaching more of an arduous track race than the good, deep work that it is meant to be.

In most cases, I see the barrier-builders as those who don't want to make more work for themselves, those that don't trust teachers, and those that don't want to share any power that they have. These barrier makers use long forms, extensive vetting, arduous processes, time when educators are busy with children for decision  making, and other power-moves that create great barriers to doing the good work possible.

Where I work some of those barriers including the arduous systems to utilize good tech, purchase needed materials, and modernize teaching/learning programs in some areas. These processes in many ways are not teacher friendly, timely, or easy-to-use thus creating barriers to making the teaching and learning more modern, deep, research-based, and meaningful.

Where I work there are many structures in place that do work for us, structures that support the best possible service to students and development of the learning programs. Some of those processes include the following:
  • Multiple state programs that support elevating the teaching and learning
  • Summer work stipends and support for program development
  • Can-do, supportive attitudes by multiple colleagues who support efforts that support students such as lending computers, providing needed counseling, program problem-solving, attendance at professional events, fair working conditions/salaries, and more.
  • Welcoming learning environments
  • Lots of family and community support for quality education
Educators have to always consider if they are working for their students or against their students. Having a servant/partnership leadership  model in place helps educators to continually partner with students and serve students and families too. This is an ideal way to approach teaching and learning--when students and families know that you are working with and for them, the sky's the limit for what you can achieve.

Friday was a tough day in the school house. It felt like some were working against the good work possible--there was uncomfortable struggle that I've been thinking about for the past twenty hours or so. What could have been better?

First, the issue at hand needed a deeper problem-solving approach sooner than later. While our team had attempted many times to reach resolve with the issue, in hindsight, we should have worked with greater process and detail earlier. I try to work on issues earlier than later, but I do have a tendency to bury the challenge until it gets to be an uncomfortable burden. Yesterday, the issue at hand became an uncomfortable burden, and fortunately a good leader helped to bring about a positive resolution, one that will serve students better in the week ahead. Also, there was not great hardship to anyone except for some stress that educators and other staff felt related to the issue.

This makes me think about the days to come--what do the children, families, and colleagues need? How can I work for/with them rather than against them?

Students need a positive start with a greeting, the schedule ready, and lots of personal check-ins, positive coaching, and academic support. As a team, they still need rehearsal with our daily/weekly routines as well as more pointed lessons and hands-on practice related to teamwork. Further, they will profit from lots of positive social-emotional learning lessons in the days ahead, lessons about perseverance, growth mindset, collaboration, making mistakes, and more. Those lesson-starters are hosted on this website, a website that I'll continue to add to in the days ahead. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Week Ahead: September 16, 2019

Overall it was a good week of teaching and learning. The highlight included the students' My Three Words projects, the Best Part of Me poems, their teamwork, buddies, and the well-attended Curriculum Night. Challenges included some new scheduling patterns, a few communication snafus, and finding the best ways to collaborate with the many educators I work with throughout the week.

Next week the focus will be helping every child do their best on the many efforts we'll engage in, efforts that continue to focus on divisibility rules, systemwide tech programs, read aloud, independent reading, and working at good collaboration patterns as the year's schedule takes shape.

As the week takes shape, we have put the following collegial efforts in place:

  • Monday newsletter meeting
  • Tuesday student planning meeting
  • Wednesday professional learning events
  • Thursday local union meetings
  • Friday PLC and weekly planning meetings
The student schedule is taking shape too. The week includes the following:
  • specials: art, music, tech, library, physical education
  • math five times a week
  • ELA reading and writing ten times a week
  • read aloud
  • independent reading
  • science and social studies activities
  • recess and lunch
Students have started the year with a very positive mindset--now it's time to work toward depth and breadth as we focus on teaching every child well. Onward. 

The Best Laid Plans. . .

I thought carefully about the plans today, but then one unexpected event after another toppled those plans quickly. There are days like that in school, and I must say those days are not my favorite days.

First, I didn't anticipate a small computer snafu as well as a part of the program that takes a lot of time. Instead I expected a quick log on and practice session, but instead it was a lengthy event. Last year because we logged in earlier, that wasn't the case. A minor error, but one that upset the plans nevertheless.

Then, there was confusion in our wing about scheduling and staffing. I reached out to figure it out which created havoc. It wasn't the first time the team reached out to figure that situation out, but this time the question hit a nerve and created a problem. The good part was that the problem resulted in a better solution than was previously planned, and the difficult part is that the situation created worrisome conflict.

It was also our first day with a number of scheduling related issues, none of which were big problems, but instead a first try which left me thinking about how to schedule that time better for future Fridays.

Buddy time is a perfect ending to the week.
The afternoon found the students settling into a good math activity, cleaning up the room, and having their first buddy day with kindergartners which was wonderful. While fifth graders worked with their buddies, teachers met to discuss a focus related to reading workshop and reading assessments. The mostly procedural meeting went well.

In hindsight, the day's challenges were born out of a dearth of communication--we didn't know what to expect and that lack of knowledge led to confusion which then, fortunately, resulted in a good solution for next week which was positive.

Educators know that flexibility is key to the job, but we also know that good communication, schedules, lead time, and collaboration result in a job well done.

The children were awesome today and that was the high point. Onward.

Professional Learning Focus and Direction: September 2019

As the year takes hold, the professional focus takes shape.

This weekend will be a time to focus in on multiple professional development areas including the following:

  • Building the TEAM in STEAM
  • Reviewing information related to the DESE pilot and presentation we'll take part in as well as our collaborative watershed/climate change project with MA Audubon.
  • Review of upcoming field trips and expert visitor presentations.
  • Reviewing Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain notes
  • Reviewing the upcoming schedule
  • Planning efforts related to advocate for a revision to Math RTI
  • Paperwork organization
Every so often weekend time needs to be deeply devoted to multiple education focus areas--this investment pays off with regard to teaching and learning well.

Building Teamwork and Collaborative Skill 2019-2020

For the past few years, our grade-level teaching team has been working with students to build the TEAM in STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, and math). This year we will continue this process with successful efforts from the past as well as new ways. How will we do this?

First we fostered a team graffiti project. On the first day, it was obvious that most children weren't really sure about what to do. We talked about it, and they came up with a list of teamwork sills and processes. The next day resulted in much more wonderful creativity and collaboration.

Then we re-looked at our classroom teams and made some changes based on student choices. After that we engaged in another team building activity: the note card challenge. Teams worked together with 100 note cards to create structures. 

Next week, we'll talk more seriously about team and likely get involved in one more teamwork activity. Before we can move into our many wonderful science and social studies activities, it's important that we focus on team, and why optimal teamwork does enrich our collective ability to explore, create, make decisions, and learn. Onward. 

What's Your Teaching/Learning Focus Today?

Every day before I go to school, I think about the day's focus. Every day the primary focus is a bit different. Today, the focus will be independence. I'll be watching to see which students are able to independently follow the routines set, routines such as signing in, doing the morning job, asking questions when they need help or clarification, advocating for what they need, and paying attention to lesson introductions and expectations.

I'll have a clipboard handy, and jot down notes about those that need more support with regard to the kind of daily independence that builds student confidence and capacity. I'll also provide warm support to those who need it to be able to follow the daily routine. This is a good focus for a Friday when most of the learning is personalized and a review of the week's focus. Onward.

Tired Days

Some school days are tired days, tired days for teachers and/or tired days for students.

This was our first full week at school, the first week when students went to all specials and rotated to each fifth grade classroom each day. It was also a week when teachers prepared for and presented at Curriculum Night. It's likely that many teachers and students will be tired today.

It's important to recognize that tired days for teachers and students will occur, and when those days occur, we have to recognize that and give a bit more space for potential sluggishness and a bit more sensitivity.

Today the day is planned with plenty of reading, some math games, online practice activities, recess, and buddy time. It's a good plan for what might be a tired day for some--a warm and cozy plan to put an end to a good first full week of learning and teaching.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Friday, September 13, 2019

It has been our first five-day week of the school year.

Tomorrow is day 11 of the school year.

We'll start the day by revisiting a systemwide tech program that all children do.

Next, students will engage in a factor captor tournament, a fun way to engage in divisibility rules, multiplication, and number knowledge practice.

After that, recess, then a focus on independent reading.

The afternoon will introduce students to a math activity, then hopefully our first buddy time while teachers engage in PLC.

A good day ahead.

Curriculum Night 2019

Tonight is Curriculum Night. In a few minutes, I'll get ready to go back to school to present our grade five program to many family members. As I've written about countless times, I truly love our collaborative model of teaching at fifth grade because together we truly can do better. I also love the fact that we all teach all children, and put children first with regard to all that we do. It's a good program that we continually work at to make better--the evolutionary process in place makes the job interesting and positive.

Tonight we'll begin with students' My Three Words video--a video that introduces all the family members to all 68 fifth graders with a short video of each child saying their name and three words depicted on a poster that tells something about their goals, hopes, or interests. Then we'll introduce the program with an emphasis on the fact that family members, students, and educators make up a collaborative learning/teaching community focused on the the positive welfare and development of each and every child.

I look forward to meeting the many family members who will come, and for those that can't attend, we've added the presentation to our grade five website so they can access all the information in the comfort of their homes. Onward.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Trust and Surprise

A teaching environment demands trust and is filled with surprise.

The environment also depends on optimal collegiality--teamwork.

Over the past few years, I have felt that our teaching/learning environment has grown with regard to teamwork. Good structures, schedules, and new curriculum programs have fostered a greater sense of team. This teamwork depends on trust with regard to growth, and that trust depends on good communication, honesty, and care for one another.

Teaching is busy work--there's rarely a free moment during the day, and the to-do list often far surpasses the time available. This busyness can sometimes be a problem when surprises occur because those inevitable surprises can be seen as a burden. Though, as we all know, it's important to be open to surprises and meet those unexpected events with our most professional, curious, and committed selves.

This flexible thinking as our counselors so often remind us of as we meet to plan best supports for students is not only important for our students, but for ourselves too. It's easy to rely on rigid schedules, tight expectations, and the way it has always been done rather than to be open minded to new possibility and the promise that exists when surprises occur.

As I move down the teaching road this year, I want to work at building and maintaining trust with the teaching/learning community, and make sure that I have that curious, professional, and committed response to the surprises that inevitably occur.

Using video to elevate performance

Students began the year with the My Three Words project. It is a powerful project that helps students and teacher get to know one another as well as a project that focuses on school year goals. Students film each other saying their three words and showing off their digital posters. The videos are combined to make a film that introduced family members to all the students at the grade level on Curriculum Night.

What's powerful about the project is that the project teaches multiple digital skills such as videotaping and creating a digital poster. The project initiates an important discussion about what's important to every learner, and the project builds on our year's initial focus on the importance of names--a focus forwarded by this terrific TED talk that spoke to the students.

Putting the film together and matching it with music gave me a lengthy opportunity to get to know each child via their video performance and words. In a short video each child demonstrated their personality as they performed their words and said their name. This was valuable.

As I watched the videos, I was reminded of the importance of this modern era skill--a performance skill displayed via video that includes clear speaking, actions that match words, originality, and authenticity. It takes courage to film yourself and share it with the whole class, however if you start honing that skill as a young person, it will be easier as you get older.

Making movies, even short movies, is a terrific brain exercise as you synthesize image and sound to make meaning. I'll certainly use this venue again as students continue to learn. The shared video venue, WeVideo, makes the process inviting and fairly easy to use.  I know that students will enjoy making videos to show what they know with meaning and personality in the year ahead. I look forward to that.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Remaking Response to Intervention (RTI)

Overall I have been happy with the fact that we started an RTI program in math and ELA at school. I believe that our initial efforts to employ RTI boosted our ability to collaborate as teaching teams with regard to serving students well. Our RTI efforts have helped us to look at data together with a holistic lens, and together make decisions about teaching techniques that support student learning.

Now I believe it is time to grow our RTI efforts in new ways--ways that will elevate what we can do with and for students. I believe we can better personalize our approach to truly help students gain confidence, skill, concept, and knowledge.

As I think about this desire to remake RTI, I am considering the following changes.

Greater Consistency and Better Teacher-Student/Student-Student Partnerships
The current model is based on flexible groups that changes every six weeks. That means that each group meets with a teacher for approximately 6 hours over a six-week period including two half hour periods each week. I believe that's not enough time to solidify the kind of trusting relationship with a teacher that leads to deep and beneficial learning. This is particularly true for students who may be reluctant or resistant learners for all kinds of reasons--those students especially need a trusting relationship in order to learn well.

To offer greater consistency, I believe that we should match our most resistant and reluctant learners with the most qualified staff for periods much longer than six weeks, and perhaps for a whole year in order to develop the kinds of bonds that lead to trusting relationships and successful learning.

Better Learning Targets Based on DeepKnowledge of Students
At present, our groupings are based on unit tests. I don't think that these tests are the best way to determine how we group students. I believe that we will do better if we group students along the lines of the kinds of foundation deep skills, knowledge, and concept that students need to shore up their mathematical mindset and ability to do all kinds of grade-level math work. Rather than basing groups on a unit test, I believe we should look deeply at a child's overall math mindset and abilities, and then decide what that child needs and how we can provide that learning opportunity for the child in engaging and meaningful ways.

Inform Instruction with Assessment
As it stands now, children are grouped and the focus is the skills they missed on the unit test, but typically, students are not retested or given the kinds of formative assessments that allow students to actually see and track their growth. I believe that if educators are working consistently with same children, it will be much easier to integrate the kinds of formative assessments that allow children to determine how their skills, knowledge, and concept are growing. These kinds of informal, formative assessments along with consistent dialogue with the children will grow a child's sense of ownership and success with regard to their math abilities, needs, and interests.

Personalized, Self-Directed Math Time
The transition time, staffing challenges, and frequent rotations, I believe, do not lead to the kind of deep, personal, and self-directed math learning possible in the tech age we live in. For students who are clearly gaining skill during core math times, I believe that RTI should be a time for those students to use a responsive learning menu to lead their learning in their homerooms. The menu would be made by the core teacher in ways that target specific students' needs via a number of math learning requirements and choices. Students would use this time to direct their learning and learn how to learn by making choices, working with teacher-coaches, and collaborating with one another. This RTI approach would include a consistent pattern of a brief introduction, accessing the learning menu, making good choices, and feedback from the teacher about overall performance, choices, and learning gains.

Overall I believe that we can elevate what we do with RTI by retaining the good collaboration we've utilized in the past while changing the existing structure to better serve all students. I look forward to working with colleagues to discuss this in the days ahead. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Related Notes from Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain:

Learning Program Evolution: What will you revise or change this year?

What I like best about teaching and learning is the process of evolving learning programs toward better and better service to children. I love to synthesize research, students' needs and interests, and the system/state standards/goals to better what my team and I can do at school.

To date, some of that evolution has resulted in promising change including the movement to a shared teaching model. This is the best model I've worked in throughout my career since taking a team approach has meant greater camaraderie and collaboration with regard to serving children, forwarding a top-notch teaching learning program, and eradicating the isolation and single-minded focus of the one-teacher-one-classroom approach.

Also, the movement to collaboration with outside agencies has been positive. Our collaboration with Massachusetts' Audubon Drumlin Farm naturalists and educators has elevated our standards-based environmental education program. This year, the state has invited us into a program evaluation pilot which will enrich this study as well.

And, efforts to add more hands-on field studies and in-house programs have further benefitted the teaching/learning experiences. Similarly improving the learning environment by replacing desks with wonderful tables and adding lots of comfy chairs and one-to-one computers have been advantageous. And, improving the weekly schedule has created a better flow for optimal learning and teaching.

Students benefit from inclusive, research-based, collaborative, student-centered evolution in schools, and this evolutionary process when done well makes teaching and learning the successful, enjoyable craft that it can be.

As I think of these changes, I am also thinking about the changes we hope to foster in the year ahead--changes that require good collaboration, research, problem solving, and the risk of trying something new.

This year I hope to work with colleagues to foster the following changes:
  • Addition of performance tasks in math. These tasks will provide students with a process-approach to math learning and problem solving that begins with a meaningful, open-ended math problem that students tackle in a myriad of personalized ways. There is a step-by-step scaffolding of the effort that includes easier-to-more-difficult tasks, check-in points with peers and educators, editing, more problem solving, final presentations and share. The goals of this movement is to deepen math teaching and learning, add greater collaboration, foster positive perseverance, and move towards student mastery--a kind of mastery where students are able to apply, demonstrate, and discuss concepts with meaning, engagement, and accuracy. Fortunately I am working with an awesome team who are invested in this process as well.
  • Revising math RTI. Many years ago we put an RTI (Response to Intervention) process into the schedule. In many ways it has been successful, however, I believe it is ready for revision and I hope that colleagues and administrators will work with our team to revise this process for better effect this year. 
  • Greater culturally relevant and brain-friendly teaching and learning. Using Zaretta Hammond's book as a guide, I hope to elevate our ability to teach in a culturally relevant and brain-friendly ways.
  • Improving our environmental education efforts in conjunction with the MA Department of Education program evaluation pilot and collaboration with Drumlin Farm's naturalist coach. 
There's much to do to make this evolution a reality. 

How will you evolve your teaching/learning program this year? What are your priorities? I'm curious. 

Students drive the teaching/learning program

I am spending a lot of time observing my students these days and responding to students' needs and interests as I forward the teaching/learning program.

What have I noticed?

This year most of my students seem to enjoy play a lot. They LOVE recess and engage well with each other via their large array of games including four square, soccer, football, playground equipment play, and more.

They also display a varied response to assignments. I'm watching this closely with the goal of matching the learning experiences as much as possible to their engagement.

And, they are demonstrating a variety of skills and abilities too which is making me think hard about where people sit during listening times, the way I organize assignments, pacing, and the information included in assignments.

I have to coach myself to not speed ahead, but instead take this observation seriously in order to invite every child into the learning in meaningful ways. Onward.