Friday, October 11, 2019

Assessing Efforts: Relationship Building

Second-to-second the school day is filled with interactions. I was thinking about yesterday's interactions in the wee hours of the morning. There was the stern interaction with a young child who was fooling around rather than attending to the math study--I want to build this bright's child's capacity for academic focus and a serious attitude and confidence towards his studies, and there was the joyful interaction when a little girl ran towards me in the hall to give me an impromptu hug as well as many, many more interactions during the day as I taught the 65 fifth graders and interacted with many more children throughout our approximately 400-student school.

Now that we've got a good routine going, it's time to focus in on my overarching goal of the year which is framed with the word "Relationship" and the image below:

How am I doing?

Relate to children by making time to get to know who they are, what they enjoy, and what they need. Our team began the year with lots of get-to-know-each-other activities which led to a positive start. We are also in the midst of working with students to prepare their showcase portfolios which they'll use to introduce their learning year and goals to family members at upcoming fall conferences. This process as well as the conferences will further deepen our knowledge of each child. Our mostly interactive, hands-on learning program puts us actively in the midst of children all day long too. We're off to a great start in this area.

Effectively embed social-emotional learning (SEL) throughout the curriculum. We've spent a good deal of time doing this via video, class meetings, and read aloud. I'd like to be even more explicit about this effort by organizing and coordinating the resources we use with greater connection to the many units of study we teach.

Look deeply at the schedule at the beginning of the year and create an effective routine for teaching and learning. It's true that we stuff a lot of learning into our days. I am always debating whether we are trying to do too much, yet the program, for the most part, matches the exuberant energy of 10 and 11 year olds so for the most part, I think our schedule is working well. We will continue to tweak the schedule week to week as we make room for the many varied learning events that make up the year, events that include expert visitors, hands-on projects, field studies, traditional learning experiences, and more.

Arrange the classroom in ways that welcome, empower, and inspire students to learn with capacity and success. For the most part I believe that the classroom is welcoming, empowering, and inspiring. I'd say we're a bit short on space altogether and it would be nice to have a sink, but all in all, the students enjoy working at the tables, sitting in comfy chairs, expressing themselves on the white boards, and using the many varied materials that exist in the classroom.

Teach in a variety of ways to appeal to students' diverse interests and needs. In general, the curriculum is filled with a good variety of learning experiences. Now it's time to personalize that learning even more especially for those students who are exhibiting needs for greater personalization. This work relies on the entire team's efforts and synchronization. We are in the midst of doing this work now.

Inspire effective learning via positive, deep interdisciplinary project based learning experiences. Remaining positive is essential, but not always easy when you are trying to introduce a new concept to a large group of diverse learners. Yet, typically just relaying the challenge up front to the students enlists their empathy and support for lessons like this. Also acknowledging that some of the structures in school are not that natural such as spending an entire day in a room with about 25 persons--it's a bit crowded to accommodate all the needs and interests that exist. Nevertheless we make the best of it, and at times, that somewhat crowded room transforms into a dynamic, creative, and vibrant learning community. Our team is working hard to deepen the project work we do. We have signed on to a number of consultant opportunities as well as working to restructure and deepen the project work to make the learning more engaging and profitable. The challenge here is time.

Offer an inviting menu of inspiring, enjoyable, and educational field experiences, expert visitors, and special events. These activities demand good planning and preparation, and when done well serve to build a dynamic, invested, and collaborative learning team of students, family members, and educators. We've got a good venue of activities planned, activities students, family members, and teachers are looking forward to.

Embed new research, tools, and activities from regular professional learning via reading, research, and teamwork. This kind of work enlivens the learning program for all. For example when colleagues discussed the Four 4's math activity, they made many good suggestions about improving the activity for all learners. This resulted in a successful, engaging math activity for all. Similarly colleagues discussed our recent math performance task and this too was improved to benefit all. I find that targeted learning discussions amongst colleagues and students result in better teaching. The key is to well-organize and focus those discussions on research-based efforts, try out the learning experience, and then reflect and revise as needed. There's no shortage of professional learning resources, but there is a limited time so we have to choose well. Following good threads on social media helps too. Just a couple of days ago, I read Will Richardson's Modern Learning blog interview with Conrad Wolfram which provided a perfect introduction to students' lesson related to patterns, variables, and coordinate grids. That information uplifted the lesson in a meaningful and relevant way. Finding the right patterns for regular updating and improving learning experiences with regard to new research is critical to teaching and learning well.

Support more consistent, targeted, and personal support for all students with particular attention to those without at-home academic support. This is an area of some challenge, challenge not born out of will, but challenge born out of the fact that personalization is tough when you are in charge of many students at once. The best path to this personalization is to use time, resources, and staffing well. I wrote a post about this earlier in the week, and continue to think about how I can better serve all students and those students without at-home academic support well. The challenge here is that often our children most in need are the least served since there are few that advocate for them. Children's whose parents are visible, communicative, and curious are noticed, but students whose family members are often not available are sometimes not noticed or served well. These students typically demand a different perspective and resources. I think we can continue to improve in this area of school life.

Have a positive weekly routine that includes teamwork, standards-based learning experiences, and in-school/at-home practice. Our routine continues to take shape. There's some work to do to tweak specific areas of the schedule so that all children are well served. Starting the week of 11/11 we'll start a homework club which will be a positive addition to the routine.

Respectful, caring, and kind interpersonal efforts and teamwork are essential to teaching/learning success. With high expectations, a people-intensive environment, and little personal time to reflect or prep throughout the day, respect, kindness, and caring can be challenging, yet those attributes are essential in the teaching/learning environment. For ambitious teachers like me it's good to slow down and notice the educators around me who are the most respectful, caring, and kind and use them as mentors to foster my ability to slow down, listen, and respond with care. It is critical that learning communities are loving communities and that has to be a first priority.

Partner with colleagues, families, students, and the community to teach well. It's critical that we work together to teach well. Fortunately I work in a community where people are eager to partner to do the good work possible. Our team is committed to this and this is a good thing.