Thursday, November 28, 2019

School Days: December 2019

It's been a busy fall organizing and forwarding our fifth grade program. There were a fair number of surprises and complications that made getting started a bit more complicated this year, but finally, I feel we have a good routine and program in place for this year's students.

Every year, every group of children present you with new challenges as you work to personalize the teaching/learning program to best meet the state/system expectations while teaching every child well. This year's surprises began with lots of unexpected events at the start of the school year that upset our typical organization and teaching schedule and there was also the typical adjustments that go along with working with new team members and teaching a new group of students.

But now, we know our students well, we have a good program in place, and the year is taking on a positive routine.

Personally, it's time to slow it down a little bit and work on finesse with regard to student-teacher relations. I want to make time for more one-to-one conversations, support, and encouragement. This year's busy start made this more difficult. I also want to make more time for the nuts-and-bolts teaching that provides students with a strong foundation--the winter months are great for this. We have many expert visitors who will join us in the coming months, many special events, and many field experiences too. Students know the routines for these kinds of events now since we've already had a few which makes upcoming events easier to plan and execute. That's good too.

Professionally, my goals include the following:

  • Continuing to teach the expected math, science, and reading program.
  • Revisiting student portfolios with new reflections
  • Revisiting optimal teamwork and learning mindsets and routines with students 
  • Always working towards a healthy personal-professional balance.
Now it's time to enjoy the holiday--I'll like revisit this post after the weekend as we start the December leg of the school year. Onward.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The days ahead 2019-2020 school year

A nasty virus took me down the last few days--a good reminder to wash your hands often when teaching school and to embrace a healthy routine to avoid such illnesses as much as possible. Having pushed the margins of both the personal and professional schedule the last few weeks, I wasn't surprised that illness struck--none of us are superhuman and when we push past our limits, there are often repercussions.

Happy to be on the mend, the next couple of days will be celebratory teaching days filled with special events and leaning experiences, then after Thanksgiving, we'll return to more traditional teaching until the two week holiday break.

Today I'll prep for the days ahead and give my attention to the special grade-level day planned. I look forward to bringing some good energy to school after so many days of low energy and illness in the past couple of weeks. Onward.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Positive Teamwork

To read the news and reflect on the world's most important problems, it's clear to see that teamwork skills and abilities are essential in today's world. We have to work together to make better.

This week our students will be working together to solve problems and create. This is one more step for our team building focus at fifth grade--a focus that will lead to students' 2020 climate change projects which will begin after the Thanksgiving holiday. Onward.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Lighten the load

Generally people talk about doing more, squeezing it in, and challenge. Rarely do you discuss lightening the load, yet there are times when that's the absolute right thing to do?

To lighten the load often means that you want to focus in, be more precise, and better what you do. If you try to do it all, sometimes that results in subpar performance, relationships, and endeavor.

How do you lighten the load in a world of endless possibilities and opportunities?

First, you need to think about what's really important to you? What is it that you want to accomplish, experience, or do no matter what, and then what's less important to you. What can others do instead of you.

Then you need to think about the kind of energy you need to complete your most important endeavors, and how to maximize that energy.

Lightening the load is often important and should always be considered when big dreams call you forward.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Teach Well: Next Steps November - December 2019

Today was a good teaching/learning day. We had plenty of time to help lots of students learn new knowledge, skills, and concepts. I LOVE teaching days like this.

The days ahead will give us lots of time to dig in and engage students in multiple gentle learning days that include reading great books, studying decimal and whole number operations in a large number of ways, studying climate change's effect on our watershed, Looking for ways to alter our lifestyles and advocate for change to protect our watershed environment, writing stories, and playing in concerts.

I look forward to these days of somewhat traditional teaching and learning, days that will complement the busy holiday celebrations outside of school. Onward.

What can you do for your students?

It's easy to perseverate about what we can't do for our students. Limitations abound when it comes to teaching well, but for the near future, I want to focus on what I can do for my students, and then further focus on doing that work well.

I can greet my students every morning with a thoughtful hello and helpful comments and coaching The morning greeting has been a very helpful routine this year as I get a first-hand view of how my students are starting their day and I have the chance to begin the day with saying their name, hearing their questions, and supporting a good start.

I can plan good lessons and support students' learning. The time spent preparing good lessons matters.

I can work with my colleagues to plan field studies, expert visitors, and special events. This work builds community and makes learning enjoyable and meaningful.

I can help students to lead their own learning by fostering lots of reflection, leadership opportunities, student-led conferences, meetings, and showcase portfolios. This is a positive way to put children in the driver's seat of their education.

I can carefully review and respond to student learning by personally reviewing student efforts, meeting with students for learning conferences, responding to questions online and in real time, analyzing student data, observing their learning strengths and needs, and making time for positive personal attention.

I can be positive and try to be helpful in the face of the bigger challenges that exist in school. When bigger problems arise at school, I need to do what I can to help and then reach out to the learning team for support. Some school problems are greater than what one person can handle or solve--some school issues require investigation and a team approach. It's best not to be overwhelmed or negative in the face of these issues, but instead to recognize the issues' challenge and work with the greater team to make a positive difference.

I can continue to read, research, learn and advocate in order to enrich what I can do with and for students.

I can create and maintain a welcoming learning environment that has the tools and spaces that lead to meaningful, positive learning, community, and collaboration. 

No teacher is super human, but every teacher can bring positive capacity to the job. Rather than focusing on the deficits in the next few weeks, I'll choose to focus on what I can do. Onward.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Good days; not so good days

The past two days of school were not the best. I thought a lot about it, and came to the conclusion that we needed a good class clean up, better organization, and some time to regroup as a class. Today we did the cleaning and tomorrow we have a homeroom day so that's a good time to regroup and review our protocols. I also reached out to some family members who were very supportive and that helped too.

Sometimes teaching gets messy. That's when it's time to review the schedule, your efforts, and expectations. It's a wake-up call. It's been a very busy start to the school year this year. There have been a fair number of very good teaching moments, projects, field studies, and community building events. Now it's time to hunker down for the next six weeks to mostly focus on some good, deep learning experiences and lots of positive, personalized coaching. It's not time for anything new, but instead time to teach the good program we've put in place. Onward.

Who gets the front seat in the classroom?

This is one of those years when I wish I could put every child in a front seat. Our class doesn't sit in traditional seats that often, but when we do, it's a lot easier to attend to those in the front seats because you can see what they are doing with greater ease and you can reach out to them to help or respond more easily too. It's more difficult to see or help those in the back seats therefore it is easier for those in the back to do what they want than do what is expected.

Some years are like this, and during years like this, you have to continually re-think the classroom set-up, routine, and schedule to help each child as much as you can.

The key for this group of children is to make good teams. When a small group of children are working together in positive ways that helps everyone to learn. Today I'll do a little shifting and sorting to make students' seating a bit better. We'll also establish a few new routines to help students with organization. Onward.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Simplify for betterment

Many years ago a family member was having difficulty with organization and getting things done. That's when we simplified the number of objects he had in his midst--that really helped. I think that may be a good avenue for this year's teaching as well. Onward.

Discipline is not always easy

The worst part of teaching is trying to meet the needs of many children at once because invariably there's going to be more needs than time or attention now and then, and this is one of the most trying parts of teaching.

For example, today I tried to help a few children with deep needs with regard to a single topic--others were a bit off task so I could not concentrate with the quiet and attention needed to support the children. It was frustrating.

Tomorrow the students and I will talk about the need for everyone to do their best, stay focused, and use polite behavior so every students gets the attention they need when they have a question or require greater support.

I remember what it was like to be lured off task in class--the social tug of jokes and talk is a big pull for your learners of all ages, but as I told the students, the best gift I can give them is a good education, and everyone has to do their part.

Teaching a large group of children is a joy when all are engaged and focused, but it's not always as fun during those messy teaching times--time when some ease through a concept and others need greater support. We do our best to keep everyone engaged everyday with both collective and personalized menus of study, but there are better days than others. Onward.

Focus Ahead: Six Weeks of Sensitive Student-Centered Efforts

Our team has spent a lot of time this fall building our curriculum program in multiple ways--this has been good work which has resulted in a more cohesive team and engaging teaching/learning program. Now, for the next six weeks, the focus is going to be on thinking deeply about each child and working to provide the personalized supports to help every child succeed in the best ways possible.

This means no new initiatives in these weeks, but instead a focus on finessing the initiatives in place to better serve students. Practically this means paying attention to details like these:

  • Putting supplies away in places where children can find them
  • Passing in assignments on time
  • Extra support for students who are not completing assignments
  • Greater attention to detail with regard to the lessons, details that work to engage all in meaningful ways
  • Continued organization of the learning environment
  • Time for reflection related to all the great events we've been involved in recently
  • Slowing down the pace so there's more time to focus in on individual children
I'm looking forward to this period of finesse--it's a great complement to the busy outside-of-school holiday agenda. Here we go. 

The big climb

Sometimes mountains stare us in the face. We may try a peak's rugged paths time and again without success, but that doesn't mean we give up on the ascent.

There are inclines that are easy for all of us--we typically are always climbing up and over those hills without much consideration, but those really tough mountains--the ones that seem beyond our reach, but keep calling our names are the tough ones.

How do we prepare for a big climb, one that we know won't be easy, but one that we know will result in positive change and growth--the kind of mountain that begs your exploration--the mountain with the new view from the top, a view that will widen your experience and contribution with regard to living.

Yesterday I took a small forward step by using my time well to take me closer to the climb. I think that's part of a positive climbing plan: use time well and embrace activity that supports your preparation for the ascent.

Clear vision of what you will do and how you will do it also prepares one well for a challenge like this--you have to believe in the direction and have a clear vision of how you will get there.

The quiet and darker days of winter are good days to get strong for a spring, summer, or fall ascent. This is a good challenge for the days ahead. Onward.

Monday, November 18, 2019

When one day of the week stands out as the worst day?

During teaching weeks, there is typically one day that stands out as the least favorite in the week. This is often due to scheduling or other factors. The key is to get underneath that day and figure out how to better plan so it's a better day.

Which lesson to teach?

There are countless ways that I can approach today's math lesson. I've thought quite a bit about it. I could start with an online introduction then move to online practice. I could create a new online menu with direct practice. I could do a follow-the-leader, teacher-directed lesson to review the main points or I could promote one of a variety of student practice assignments beginning with a short introduction. This kind of decision making is part of a teacher's life since there are many good lessons out there and many entry points to those lessons.

Today, since I have very good help available, I'll begin with an introduction to this week's homework options since the options are a bit complicated. An early introduction means students will be more alert. Then I'll give students time to follow the learning menu which includes beginning their homework, working on online practice sites. This will be a good lesson for a Monday nearing the Thanksgiving holiday. Onward.

Saturday, November 16, 2019


I've written about humility before. This post is one of my favorites because it captures the sharp pain that humility sometimes causes. Yesterday, I was deeply humbled in a way that has quieted me and helped me to understand the words in the picture at the top of the page more.

And this quote to sheds light on what I experienced:
Why were the day's events so humbling? This humility was caused by the gap between vision and practice--the limitations one feels when that gap is clearly evident. At it's best, this awareness demonstrates the great strengths and potential of the people and ideas around you, and at its weakest, this awareness makes you realize your imperfect humanity--the finite aspect of who you are as an individual.

Yet as the quote above infers, there is no growing without humility because humility is a great teacher if we are open to its lessons.

What lessons did this humility episode teach me?

First, it taught me to listen more to the wonderful learning community and family community that surrounds me. Their efforts, ideas, questions, and will to do good work is amazing. There is so much to learn from these wonderful people.

Next, it taught me once again to focus in on the actions within my grasp--the opportunities I have to love, serve, and connect with others.

And it taught me, to take some time out from the battles for betterment now and then because if you're always battling, you can become a bit blinded. It's good to step back, to observe, and to listen between battles. It's good to battle for betterment too, but it's best when battles become well-orchestrated advocacy that compels people to listen, hear, and heed your call. That takes practice and finesse.

Yesterday's humility reminded of the important lesson from the book, Getting to Yes, "Go hard on the problem, not the people." As I move ahead I will try to remember that well and keep it at the center of the advocacy work I do. Onward.

Who makes the best leader? Elizabeth Warren for President of the United States

In this presidential season we're in, I'm thinking about who makes the best leader and how do you decide that?

First, before thinking about the who, you have to think about the what--what will the person lead, and what is the vision for that leadership.

As Americans think about their next President of the United States, they need to think first about the country as a whole and what the best action and direction is for our country.

Opportunity for all
Personally, I envision a country with opportunity for all, a country with no poverty, top notch educational opportunities, clean air, water, and soil, beautiful conservation lands, wonderful public parks, libraries, and schools, a general sense of happiness, and the will to develop peacefully with the best interests of all. I believe that we have what it takes to reach for that vision in the United States, and I want a leader who will take us there.

Modern, honest leaders
Outdated leaders like Trump who think that you have to resort to prejudice, trickery, bribery, and lawlessness to lead are ill-directed--he provides short term gains for some while running up the national debt in astronomical ways. For me that would be like maxing out all my credit opportunities to get lots of money and live a lavish lifestyle for a few years until the creditors show up at my door. Trump and his errant, self-serving cronies have put the country in the same position.

A peaceful country where everyone matters
Trump, his family members, and cronies are "survival of the fittest" candidates--leading the United States is a game of Survivor for them, a game where the only ones who matter are those who win. They've lost sight of the great worth of peace, happiness, collaboration, and opportunity for all, and instead play foolish games to gain personal wealth, power, and control. This does not match my vision of a good, peaceful, and prosperous country at all.

Bold, bright decision makers
Then there are the moderates who tread gently ahead holding on to their wealth and many systems that support mostly the wealthy. There is a place for moderation, but what this country needs now is a big correction from old narrow thinking, prejudicial times to new thinking that provides optimal health care, education, and life standards for all. We need a courageous, bright, tireless, and collaborative leader to bring our country ahead for all, and I believe Elizabeth Warren is that candidate.

Hard working leaders
We need a President of the United States that doesn't shy away from the hard work of leadership, the empathy that good leadership requires, and the intelligent analysis, research, and collaboration it takes to lead a great country ahead. We don't need another self-serving showman for a leader. Showman like Trump have one goal in mind and that's to elevate their own status. They care little, if at all, for you, me, or most other countrywomen and countrymen. These showmen use manipulation to deceive the public by way of lies, doctored images, relationships with dangerous world leaders and others, and loss of memory when it comes to important details related to serious issues.

Willing to pay attention to the details, make the tough choices
Elizabeth Warren has demonstrated her steadfast attention to some of the least easy-to-understand or simple-to-solve issues people face. She has done the tireless work to make positive changes to uplift the everyday person. Similarly, in her run for the Presidency, she has been tirelessly moving throughout the country to meet our diverse people, researching and coming up with good plans to make our lives better, and staying strong, calm, and optimistic despite the disrespect she has faced from Trump and his cronies. Her experience, energy, and intelligence make her a terrific choice for President of the United States.

Worth our time and money
In my opinion, Trump and his cronies' errant ways have wasted a lot of time, money, and potential for the United States. Rather than spending most of their time spending money and time defending their lawless acts, we could have leaders that spend that time and money working for the betterment of our country and the people in it. Anyone who has lived with, or worked with, tiring, self-serving, wrongdoing men and women like this know what a drain they are on the good work possible and the wonderful potential that exists for what is right and good. We need to choose leaders that are worth our good time, money, and potential. We will not have to spend countless dollars and hours defending Elizabeth Warren--her track record is solid and her will to serve our country, and not just herself, is clear.

There is a different, good leader for every job
Trump was a successful reality television star. His brash ways entertained people. He made a lot of money for himself which appears to be his most important criteria for success. Perhaps he is a good leader of television reality shows. He is not a good leader as President of the United States because he doesn't care much about the country or the people--he clearly cares about himself, a few family members, and a few cronies. He also is not a good leader for our country because he does not stay truthful, disciplined, or exemplify the values and laws this country holds, values and laws outlined in the United States Constitution--he does what serves himself best rather than our country's values, laws, or positive future. A good leader for the United States is one who holds our values, laws, and promise for the future dear--we need an intelligent, collaborative, energetic, creative, experienced person who truly cares about the people in the United States and all over the world--a person who can work with others for win-win solutions to make better. Elizabeth Warren is the best person for the job at this time--she's got my vote.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Successful Outdoor Adventure

We took students into the field today. We visited beautiful conservation land near our school. The trip included an approximately 1 1/2 mile walk to the location, a 30-minute snack-and-play, a three-hour naturalist-led exploration of the conservation land including ponding, soil testing, and lots of other targeted environmental science, a 1/2 hour lunch-and-play, and then the 1 1/2 mile walk back to school.

It was a full day of adventure and a positive educational and team building event.

There's always a bit of trepidation before any field study, but once the event is over, there's that feeling of fulfillment since you know that you introduced students to ideas, experiences, and knowledge that's positive.

As a child, my father and organizations I belonged to like Girl Scouts introduced me to many wonderful places. Those experiences have stayed with me my entire life, and it brings me great satisfaction to share similar positive experiences with my students. Onward.


Limitation, we all have them.

No matter who you are or how good you are, you have limitations.

Most of us don't want to dwell on our limitations, but we all know that those limitations exist.

I guess the best we can do is team with others who help to mitigate our shortcomings and make us stronger, and embrace the fact that we're human and part of being human is limitations. Onward.

Taking students out into nature

Today students will spend time in nature. A lot of planning went into this exploration and now it's time to focus on the details.

Morning preparation
We'll make sure that everyone has their lunch, warm clothes, water, and a ready attitude for the exploration. We'll review safety and learning behaviors including the following:
  • walk, don't run
  • stay with your group
  • stay to the right side of sidewalks and roads
  • listen when required
  • be curious
  • quiet walking, exploring means we might see more animals
  • use your senses to learn: look up, down, and around, smell, listen, and touch (no tasting)
  • ask questions
  • follow directions
We'll keep our groups together and follow the naturalist's directions as we explore the water, soil, and land in a beautiful, local conservation location.

I'll observe our learners to see what learning they are bringing forth and what questions they still have about the local environment. I'll notice how they explore their natural surroundings and think about what more we can do to inspire students' interest, knowledge and stewardship about the natural world. 

Fun and teamwork
It's important to relax and enjoy these team explorations. Events like these build a strong sense of team and demonstrate to students that learning is an exciting, and sometimes challenging, endeavor. I'll take some pictures too to share this exploration with the greater learning team including family members, colleagues, administration, and interested community members. 

Friday Musings: Teaching During the Holidays

The holiday season will begin soon as children leave to celebrate Thanksgiving with family members and then move into the many celebrations that occur in December and early January. Typically we complement this busy holiday season with more traditional, steady teaching and learning. What's to come?

Students will work for about an hour each Thursday on their climate change projects. These projects will be small group projects that focus on some aspect of stewardship for our local watershed environment. Our naturalist coach is leading the effort and we're supporting this work with a number of standards-based activities that help teach students how to make decisions as a group, research, plan, and complete a project that makes a difference.

There's lots of math to teach in the next month and a half as we complete the place value unit and teach and review the math operations with regard to whole numbers, decimals, algebraic thinking, and problem solving.

We'll continue reading with students and giving students a good amount of time to read great books on their own.

Students will engage in a number of enjoyable writing lessons and projects.

Special Events
There are concerts planned, but few other in school special events at this time. That's what makes school a comforting place for students during the busy holidays at home.

It's been an incredibly busy fall at school. I'm looking forward to this next leg of the school year--a time to stay faithful to our routines and a time of lots of rich learning.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Today's Focus: November 14, 2019

Today is a mostly focused on student learning. We have several weeks ahead that include lots of days like this. The good routine and attention to students' needs supports good academic and social-emotional growth.

Environmental Education
Our naturalist coach will lead students in activities that teach them what climate change is and why it is happening. This is part of our environmental education program.

The "Behavior" of the Base Ten Place Value System
Students will study the "behavior" of the base ten place value system.  They'll look closely at the powers of ten and how each place to the left increases in value by X10 and each place to the right decreases by X 1/10 or divide by 10.

Class Hike
Colleagues and I will finalize plans and information related to our upcoming hike to a local conservation area.

Elementary School: Building Blocks

So much of the good work done in elementary school is not newsworthy, but instead simple, directed, loving, and essential with regard to helping children develop strong foundations for good living.

I was reminded of that recently as I watched a colleague, who has developed a strong relationship with a child, help that child learn to get along with others better. She's working closely with the child day after day to strengthen his ability to make friends, contribute, have fun, and be successful. This good work will not make the front page news, but it is good work that makes a significant difference in the life of a child and those that work and live with that child.

For work to be valuable, it does not have to be newsworthy. Much of the best work that truly supports good living is quiet, dedicated, loving, day-by-day work. As a teaching profession, we need to honor and support that work in order to help one another teach well and to help our students thrive. This is essential.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Yesterday's Problems: Today's Solutions

Yesterday was fraught with all kinds of small problems that totaled a lot of stress. I came home, analyzed the day, and made a number of changes. Today was much better.

Bad days in any job or home happen, but when we take the time to dissect the issue, we can make the next day better.

Job Description: 2019-2020

Every year a teacher's job description changes a bit. This is due to countless factors. This year, my job description includes the following:

Reviewing and responding to student learning
Making time to review student work and respond is very important this year because this active group of learners truly look forward to this feedback and the feedback inspires more and better learning. To respond well to student learning takes about six good hours a week--this is lots of time in addition to the typical school day responsibilities, but knowing the importance of this work helps me to make time for it during the week.

Morning Greeting
For many reasons, it's very helpful for me to stand at the door and greet students this year. When I'm standing there I'm observing students' needs and encouraging students' good start to the day. It's important that I let colleagues know that I have to focus on the students at this time and it is not a time for conversation.

Teaching Routines and Prep
This student group responds to predictable teaching-learning routines. That's why lessons have to be well prepared. Also due to the large number of teachers that teach our team, when I make copies I have to make many more than the number of students so I always have extras on hand. Yesterday, a lack of copies created havoc. Staying about one week ahead with prep is similarly important.

Developing Math and Science Instruction
This is where the professional learning focus lies.

This might seem like a short job description, but each task takes many hours of focused attention and good work. Due to the complexity and depth of the teaching load this year, it's important that I focus my efforts on this shortlist alone. Onward.

Curriculum Update: The Teaching Year Continues

There's always lots to teach--limitless opportunity.

Currently, our team is focused on the following efforts:

History, Geography, and Environmental Science Related to Local Lands
Students will review the history, geography, and environment of local lands this week via a visit from a naturalist coach, text, video, and an outdoor adventure. We want our students to get to know, value, and steward the natural lands around them as we know that this knowledge will help them better enjoy and care for their environment. This is important and can be fun too.

Base Ten Place Value System and Operations with Decimals and Whole Numbers
Students are learning how the base-ten place value system works. There's lots of language and concepts to review and practice in order to be facile with this system. In general, students are responding well to the teaching and learning. After that students will revisit algebraic thinking as they solve problems using math operations with decimals and whole numbers.

Reading and Discussing Great Books
Students are learning many ways to read and discuss great books. There is enthusiasm related to this good.

Writing Fun and Enjoyment
Students are engaged in a number of enjoyable writing tasks and projects.

Teamwork and Team Projects
Students are learning to work as teams as they begin their climate change teamwork projects--there's many great experiences planned for this learning.

Student Study Review
I'll make some time to review students' study efforts soon. This regular review and commentary helps to inspire students' good effort and motivation for learning as well as they can.

From now until the December break, we'll focus on this good teaching and learning. To drill down on mostly more traditional teaching and learning while the world is celebrating multiple holidays is a good complement. Onward.

Focus Challenged

Yesterday was a challenging day in school. I came in ready. My room looked great. Then as soon as the day started, the interruptions began. First a colleague interrupted the morning flow with another agenda. Though not intentional, her efforts disrupted a routine we put in place to ensure a good start for some students. Later, repeated announcements over the intercom created stress by requesting efforts that are mostly impossible and challenging when you are teaching a large group of children. And, there were other comments and efforts that further challenged the day--a day that I had hoped would mean successful teaching with regard to a number of expected learning tasks.

What could I have done?

First, I have to assure myself that it's okay to keep the focus on the children. When others want to interrupt that, I don't have to follow, and have a right to speak up to say, "I'm here to teach, and as much as possible, we have to plan those extraneous efforts for time that doesn't interrupt the teaching.

Next, I have to be more communicative to those who work with me and around me when it comes to the need for focus to get the good teaching done. I can't teach well with lots of interruptions. I have to keep the focus on what we are doing as when I lose focus so do the children, and then the good teaching doesn't happen.

Third, I have to analyze where the little annoyances are happening and work to make change in those areas. Mostly, to change in this area, means explaining better what I am doing and why I am doing it. For some who may not have been teaching as long as I have been teaching, it may not be clear why I am doing some of the things I do while I teach. Hence, I need to be more clear.

In some ways, we're still feeling the challenge that having an unready administrator at the start of the year caused. Though that situation has been remedied, there are still some after affects.

Today will be a better day. I have good lessons planned and some time for prep and planning too. Yesterday was a good reminder of what it takes to teach well. Onward.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Flexibility: Good or Bad?

Generally it's probably better to be flexible than not. After all, there are many unexpected events in life, and one has to be flexible to respond to the changing landscape of life.

Yet, in school life, if we are always expected to be flexible, people might take advantage of that. They might interpret this flexibility in ways that affirm frequent interruptions, changes in schedule, or staffing changes, and if that happens, the time we count on to teach well will be disrupted and those disruptions can be detrimental to the good work you do.

So while it's good to be flexible in the face of unexpected, natural changes; it's not so positive to be flexible in the face of frequent interruptions and lack of good communication and planning. Onward.

Response to New Initiatives

There are a large number of new efforts and new initiatives in my midst. My initial response is to react with opinion about each one, however, I'm coaching myself away from that reaction in order to focus in on the areas that I've committed to for the year. When I see overlap, missed opportunity, or underrepresentation, my initial reaction is to speak up, yet now I want to save the speaking up for matters of great import so that I reserve energy for my primary areas of concern which include the grade five learning team, math education, science education, and community building at the grade level.

There's lots to do to keep the primary focus alive. Last night as I watched Downton Abby, this related quote sums up my thoughts today:

" We all have different parts to play, Matthew, and we should all be allowed to play them."

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Next days; teaching well

To free myself to enjoy the weekend and attend to personal matters over professional pursuits, I have to take a few minutes to reflect on where we are in school and where we are headed.

There's a good schedule of worthy events planned for the week ahead, and there are many  tweets, notes, and presentations from Friday's conference to review and summarize into a leading post next week too.

A few student-led conferences remain, but in general there appears to be ample planning and prep time next week to ready for upcoming student explorations and learning events. Now is time to focus on the personal side of life. Onward.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Interdisciplinary Project Based Learning Approach

What is your approach to interdisciplinary project based learning? How do you forward projects like this in your teaching environment?

Successful project based learning evolves guided by essential questions, positive partnerships, and conditions for excellence in a rich learning/teaching environment with teamwork amongst all members of the learning community.

Evolutionary Process
Good project based learning is much like gardening--it's a lifelong project continually evolves. Project based learning is not a static process, instead it is an ever changing approach to teaching that puts the students center stage in the learning process. Good projects develop and change over time and profits from rich professional learning, positive partnerships, reflection, assessment, and a primary focus on teaching children well. The best projects respond to expectations, interests, and needs in personal, engaging, and meaningful ways.

Essential Questions
Our project based learning approach at fifth grade begins with these essential questions:
  • Expectations: What are we expected to teach?
  • Students: Who are our students? What do our students need, want, and desire?
  • Depth and Breadth: How can we create the kind of learning environment, professional capacity, teamwork, integration of new research, and routines to foster successful project based learning that responds to who our students are and what they need and want?
These essential questions focus on expectations, students, and what's desired and possible.

Positive Partnerships
We know that to forward successful project based learning, we need support. That's why forming good partnerships and broadening the learning community to include families, colleagues, and community members is essential. We regularly reach out to students, families, and colleagues for support and collaboration, and we also reach out to multiple community organizations to support our work with their expertise, learning tools, resources, and environments, and financial support.

Setting the Stage for Project Based Learning: Conditions for Excellence
  • We identify the standards we will embed into the project.
  • We think about what will engage and motivate our students at their age and within our context of time and place. 
  • We think about what has relevance, what problems do we want students to solve.
  • We weave standards from multiple disciplines together.
  • Use a website as the project's virtual home and resource center. The website is a live document that changes as the project changes.
  • We seek professional learning that supports our project work.
  • We set up the inside/outside learning environment to support the project work. 
Develop Teamwork
We have found that one essential building block of successful project based learning is teamwork--teamwork amongst the educators and experts, and teamwork amongst the students too. This takes a deliberate, explicit approach to foster.

Exploring Best Practices

Today a colleague and I will attend Massachusetts Department of Education's Sharing for Success Dissemination Fair. We'll present our environmental interdisciplinary project based learning efforts, and we'll have the opportunity to hear educators from throughout the state describe their interdisciplinary project based learning, social emotional learning, and equity education efforts. I'm looking forward to this day of learning and share.

Some of the questions I'm bringing to the fair include the following:

  • How do other educators' approaches to project base learning differ from our efforts?
  • What new ideas will we learn that will help us to improve our efforts in this regard?
  • How to these schools support students who are less successful with teamwork and project based learning; how can we better design this work to better involve these students?
  • What are some ways that these educators embed standards into project based learning?
  • How do they make the learning from project based learning meaningful and memorable?
  • How do they create projects that are culturally relevant.
Interdisciplinary project based learning is a rich way to teach and learn if done well. Today's learning will help us to take a deeper look at the work we do with an eye on betterment. I look forward to learning opportunities like this one. Onward. 

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Thursday Musings

Tomorrow my colleague and I will attend a state conference to share the work we're doing with project-based learning and then it's the long weekend. The recent field trip and sweet s'mores solar oven project were great team builders. So I'm feeling very optimistic about the learning at this point.

Next week we'll dig deeper into the base ten place value system unit, read great books, learn lots of science and take a hike to a local conservation area. There's some papers to review and curriculum prep too. All in all we're at a good place on this first Thursday in November. Onward.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Live each day

I prickled when I heard the advice, "live each day," as a young person. I was future driven for many good reasons. I needed to move ahead, change, build a life that was akin to the who I was and what I was meant to do in this world. So to "live each day" wasn't enough for me, to me that advice signaled complacency and the call to exist within the narrow, biased walls of my life so long ago.

Instead, with imagination as my sail, I moved away from the day as it was in very clumsy ways seeking a future that was a match for my dreams, values, and personality. The journey, while not easy, was rightly directed. Yes, it was filled with error, but the direction and intention were good--I wanted to travel to this place for all the right reasons, but I often didn't know exactly how to get there.

Now so many years later, that advice, "live each day," rings true because I'm in a good place--a place that is truthful to me, a place that includes a loving family, a cozy home, nature, and good opportunity to do my work well as a teacher and community member.

To live each day now means morning reflection, teaching well, research, planning, prep, and spending good times with those I love outdoors, at museums, watching movies, playing games, and discussing life events, dreams, and plans.

We're all at different places in this world of ours. Advice that fits one's life well may not be good advice for another. I think of this with regard to my students. Some follow the routine seamlessly--it's a fit for who they are and what they want. Others fight the school routine because it's not a fit--how can I better organize the day and events for those students?

Life's journey is never dull, and it's important that we all find the mantras that lead us to the happiness, potential, and good living life affords. Onward.

School day reflections: How are he students doing?

It takes time to know the children you teach. As the school year takes hold, we're getting a good picture of each child including what they enjoy, what they don't enjoy, and how they learn best. What does this mean for our teaching and learning?

Now that students are settling in, it's time to increase the time and attention to independent reading. In general, by fifth grade at our school, most children enjoy reading. We are fortunate to have many good books available. Now it's time to revisit our reading time throughout the week and support our young readers even more.

We're noticing a lot os places where we can deepen the science learning. We've been working to find just-right investigation patterns, the kinds of patterns that make the logistics seamless leaving more tie for big think and exploration. In some ways, science is an add-on to our already full schedule so that means we often have to beg, borrow, and steal time from other curriculum areas to make time for science. To make this work, we're working to make the science curriculum as interdisciplinary as possible. We'll also continue to try out different scheduling ideas to make the time for this subject that we need.

We have good supervision at recess, and the students love to play. Watching the film, Jump In, together has also inspired more jump roping for boys and girls which is very positive and healthy too.

Students loved their fall survival stories--they were proud of the adventures they created, adventures that were inspired, in part, by reading the book, Hatchet. Students were similarly proud of their diary entries as people during colonial times--they captured the spirit of the times in their letters. There was lots of enthusiasm for the fall story contest--we'll read those stories soon, and students will vote on the best story in each class.

Most students are following the routines and accessing the many math supports available. For the new unit, we'll focus on how to master the content as we learn the many standards included in a variety of ways.

The learning community is growing stronger. Our recent field trip really helped to build our sense of team. We have many good team activities to come which I'm sure will solidify this sense of community even more.

All in all, we're off to a great start in the year. There's some refinement to do to  make sure that every child feels like they belong and are part of the program in meaningful ways. We'll work on that and continue the parts of the program that are working well. Onward.

Environmental Science Shortlist

Our team is engaged in an interdisciplinary environmental science program. Last Friday we looked deeply at the program and came up with a content shortlist:
  • What is a watershed, and how does a watershed work?
  • Why is clean water important, and what are some ways we can filter water to make sure it is clean?
  • How do organisms interact in the ecosystem; what evidence of this interdependence exists in the ecosystem?
  • What is the role of sun and plants in the ecosystem? How is energy transferred in the ecosystem?
  • What is the SUASCO watershed? Where is it and what bodies of water make up the SUASCO watershed?
  • What is climate change?
    How does climate change affect the watershed?
  • What can humans do to protect the watershed?
This shortlist is based on state standards, systemwide STEAM projects, and our systemwide science program.

We've already started teaching these standards in a variety of ways including hands-on investigations, videos, reading, lab reports, discussions, and more. Today we'll explore the role of the sun in the ecosystem with shared reading, discussion, video, the creation of solar ovens, cooking s'mores, and completing lab sheets. Of course, this is a popular project thanks to making the ovens and cooking s'mores, a favorite snack.

Next steps for the project include discussion and learning about climate change, and a nature hike that reviews our study of the watershed, water cycle, and the need for clean water, interdependence in the ecosystem, and what we can do to become good stewards of our natural environment.

Led by our naturalist coach from Massachusetts' Audubon's Drumlin Farm, students will decide on one way that they will promote knowledge about and stewardship for the environment. We'll likely have an environmental fair to showcase those projects.

There's much to do as we continue to grow and deepen this project. Onward.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Big think is a good complement to routine tasks

Today I'm engaging in a lot of routine tasks--rather dull tasks, but important tasks with regard to the the study those tasks promote.

I like to pair big think with dull tasks--I like to be thinking about the bigger questions of my life and work as I complete routine tasks. What big think questions will complement those tasks today?

Preparing for departure
In three years, I'll leave the teaching profession. I want to leave the best of what I've done in ways that are easy for my colleagues to access and use. Therefore I'll be thinking about how to best organize those resources. I'll also give away or throw away the less valuable resources I've accumulated, resources that are outdated or no longer connected to the main work I do.

Streamlining the learning environment
I want less things in the learning environment as less things will mean less items to take care of and more time for caring for students in important ways.

Learning more
Good teaching means learning more about the main subjects I teach: math and science.

Next steps
I'll likely do work that involves greater creativity, writing, and research after I leave the day-to-day teaching. I'll be thinking more about what that exactly means. I will also likely find myself working with children who need greater attention in some way too. In so many ways, working to help and support children is life's greatest teacher.


Mastery Teaching: What is the base ten numeral system and how does it behave?

Today students and I will focus on what it means to master learning as we dig into the question: What is the base-ten numeral system and how does it behave?

I'll tell students that their math job in the next few weeks is to master their understanding and use of this math system (an amazing invention). I'll ask students what they think mastery is and what they might do to master this information?

After that, we'll begin our study using this booklet as a guide.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Focus. . .Focus. . .Focus

Sometimes in schools people talk at us, and sometimes in school we may talk at people too. It's rarely, if ever, positive to be talked at or talk at others. And, when you're talked at, you may lose focus.

As I think about this. I'm thinking about how I want to avoid this not-so-positive behavior. First, know your audience. You are less likely to talk at people if you take the time to know them--talking at people often arises from one's projection about others rather than taking the time to get to know people and talking with them.

So as I think about focusing on what's important, I'm thinking about vetting the talking at me and the avoiding of talking at others.

At fifth grade, we have a lot of positive teaching and learning going on. So it's not a time for new, but instead a time to dig in to what we're focused on.

Good learning routines
Students mostly are eager to do well. For the few that are not eager to learn, we're working on that as we try to find out what's getting in the way. To help our eager and not-so-eager learners, we're focusing on the many ways we can help students access helpful practice/learning information and get support for that learning. The more we know students and work together as learning team members, the better we are able to support each and every learning with positive learning routines.

Math mastery
Students know the math routines now, and the next focus is on mastery. We'll talk about what it means to master skills, concepts, and knowledge points and how we can help each other as we start a new unit.

Science explorations, labs, and mastery
We're deepening our science teaching and learning in multiple ways this year. The ways we're developing this work includes the following:

  • participation in a statewide evaluation pilot to identify if we're on track with the goals we've set for science teaching and learning.
  • creating routines and patterns for the procedural work so that we can focus more on the deeper study.
  • expecting greater depth, precision, and attention to lab reports.
  • mastery of content displayed via assessments, projects, and hands-on explorations
Social emotional learning; community building
Developing a strong, caring, helpful learning community with all members of the learning community including families, students, teachers, administrators, and community members. 

These are the main goals for the year. Good goals to focus on, and goals that take precedence of being talked at or talking at others. Onward. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Endless Potential: What's your shortlist?

Since the role of teacher is a role of endless potential, we all have to make ourselves some shortlists to live and work by.

This is my shortlist for this week:

Sunday: Purchase a few remaining materials for this week's science explorations. Review a box full of assignments (not fun, but definitely worthwhile)

Monday: Teach and prep for upcoming science explorations. Faculty meeting. Complete a few chores related to Friday's presentation.

Tuesday: Teach and prep for Friday's presentation. Plan with team for more effective collaboration coaching for this week's science explorations.

Wednesday: A day mostly devoted to science exploration. An afternoon of student-led family-student-teacher conferences.

Thursday: Teach, sub plans, copies for Friday's presentation, Union meeting, prep for Friday's presentation, pack for long weekend event.

Friday: Leave early for the presentation, present, attend other presentations, homeward, and off to the weekend's event.

Planning what you will do is as important as planning what you won't do. This won't be a week for much big think or future project work--there simply isn't the time. There will be time for that next week. Onward.

Schools: Joyful Places

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As I thought about the weeks ahead, weeks that will make up the Season of Light for so many, I thought about the need to make school a joyful place for students. I know that our team has been working hard to put schedules in place, meet expectations, help everyone follow the "group plan" and coordinate our efforts in meaningful ways. We've been working hard, and perhaps we've been working a little too hard since I'm feeling that need to get back to the needed joy that makes schools great places to be and great places to learn, make friends, create, and come together. 

The tweets at the top of the page, in part, fostered these thoughts in me. Also, our wonderful, recent field trip to Old Sturbridge Village reminded me of the joy possible with playful exploration and learning in wonderful teaching/learning spaces.

So how will I increase the joy in the days ahead. First, I'll work to slow it down a bit so there's more time and attention for what matters most. Then, I'll likely not add anything new--we've got a good plan in place and now it's time to refine that plan rather than add to it. And, I'll think of the many festivals and holidays related to light and gratitude that students will be celebrating, and I'll work to bring that brightness and spirit into the classroom. Onward.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Saturday Morning Musings

It was an incredibly busy week at school with 15 student-led family-student-educator conferences (I need a better name for this wonderful meetings), a deep dive into a hands-on STEAM project with students, a field study (perfectly planned for Halloween), and a professional learning event. The good news is that the events planned went well for almost all students, and the challenge is to shore up the weak spots so next week when we repeat much of the same, we make those events successful for more.

Science Teamwork
What made the learning successful for so many was that it was well-planned, interactive, and engaging. Most students were invested most of the time. What made it challenging for a few is that we didn't anticipate some of the challenges students would face with the many learning events. We'll better plan for those challenges. For example, working in small teams to carry-out a science activity can be difficult for some as they choose roles, divide up the tasks, take turns, build, make, investigate, and complete lab reports. This week we'll make a few minutes at our student planning meeting to discuss how we can better meet the needs of the few students who struggled with this activity and apply those changes to this week's solar oven exploration and making.

Student-Led Conferences
Overall the student-led conferences were terrific, but I can improve the process by making sure I add the following steps to each conference:

  • A reminder card that helps students follow all the steps including their family members to the teacher, sharing specific portfolio pages, then choosing a few more items to share. 
  • Starting with a positive story, comment, or example of the child's good work at school.
  • Using questioning to approach the tougher subjects with students and families, such as "I wonder why _____ happens at ________?" This allows the child to give their side of the story, and helps the child, teacher, and family members to discuss how to make the situation better.
Professional Learning
Updating my own professional learning demeanor and outlook is important too. I have noticed recently that the events I attend and the professional manner of presenters, educators, and administrators is much more serious, sympathetic, intelligent, and positive than in the past. We are moving from the oppressive top-down, do-as-I-say mantra so common in professional learning events of the past to a much more collaborative way of making programming better. This is positive and means I can let my guard down and temper my sarcasm and criticism more in order to open up to these positive learning events. This is a very positive change on the education front. Fortunately I was at this week's event with three amazing and very professional educators whose good example, depth, and commitment provided terrific mentoring for my learning and growth.

Math Reflection and Growth
Students were eager to receive their math tests and open minded to discussing what they knew well and what they still need to practice to learn. 

Field Study
Thanks to the help of many parent and colleague chaperones, dedicated museum staff, wonderful museum exhibits, and plenty of space to move around, the field study to Old Sturbridge Village was a success and laid a good foundation for the many field studies we've planned for the year. Prepping students well before hand helped students to enjoy the day. We noticed that many were very curious asking terrific questions and making good connections as they stepped back in time and toured the 1830's village. Also, partaking in the Museum's hands-on activities provided focus. And, going on a field trip does work to build a sense of community with the whole grade-level, and this is good too. 

Next Week's Focus

Next week will begin with our all-school assembly, and then I'll have the chance to pass back many corrected math assignments. Passing back these assignments leads to greater investment and questioning by the students. Most students saw a short film about the history of the digits with special attention to the story of zero--an amazing story last week. This week they'll begin to look deeply at the base-ten place value system components and how they work together to make all numbers infinitely less and more. For the groups that didn't see the film last week, they'll begin with the film this week and then the many specific teaching and practice exercises and events.

We'll revisit last week's water filter lab reports and what an exemplary job looks like and why that's important. Then students will have time to work with their teams to complete the reports. 

Students will also engage in two more STEAM explorations this week including solar ovens and plant packets. Both projects help to lay the stage for our upcoming conservation hike where we'll further look at the role of the sun in the natural world, interdependence in the ecosystem, the role of water, preserving clean water and lands, and the way the many, varied plants in the ecosystem support a healthy watershed.

We'll continue our RTI reading events. During this time I'll employ a new app our district is trying out to enrich student-teacher reading conferences. It is the Pocket Connie app. During reading class students will continue to work on inferential comprehension and their participation in the global read aloud with the book, Front Desk.

Writing and Social Studies
Students will engage in a number of writing exercises that involve science and social studies too.

Professional Planning and Learning
There's a good deal of prep to complete for this week's and next week's teaching. My colleague and I will also attend the MA Department of Education Sharing for Success Dissemination Fair where we'll share our environment education project and also have time to learn about many more successful strategies teachers are employing throughout the state. Learning and sharing like this generally results in positive development with regard to our own teaching and learning.

A good week past and a good week to come. Onward. 

Making teaching/learning programs better

Yesterday two fifth grade teachers including myself, a special educator, and the assistant superintendent met with MA Department of Education leaders, education consultants, and teams from across the state to look deeply at how we evaluate the programs we teach. That worthy process led our team into deep discussion and debate about our hands-on environmental science program that we teach in partnership with MA Audubon's Drumlin Farm naturalists and environmental educators.

As we spoke, we talked a lot about our main objectives with the program which are to teach specific standards-based content, inspire students' interest and stewardship of the natural world, and building the social emotional learning goal of collaboration or teamwork.

How do we measure objectives like that?

For the content, we'll use an assessment; for collaboration skill, a survey, and for inspiration in the topic, a qualitative interview. As the consultants emphasized, we are essentially evaluating to see what's working and who is it working for?

In the meantime, we have a somewhat unique position since we are building the program while we're evaluating it--this is not a static program, but a program that's continually changing. So I imagine that during the next few weeks, we'll carefully look at the main content we're teaching to make it more precise, meaningful, and memorable. I also know that we'll work with the greater team to think about how we can build collaboration and teamwork in more successful ways for every student. Right now collaboration works for many, but not all. What has helped this collaboration is modeling via video and in real time, explicit conversation and surveys about specific collaboration attributes and actions, and coaching. What else can we do to grow this skill for all students, and help those students who struggle the most with it do better? And with regard to inspiration and motivation, it's important that we model that inspiration and motivation with positivity--if learning outside is fun, children will gravitate to it. If students understand the importance of this study for their lives today and into the future, they'll like embrace it more.

Simply targeting our goals, as we did yesterday, is a good initial step towards evaluating what we are doing well, and what we can do better. There are more steps to come, steps that the consultants will lead us through. This is one of the many worthy and deep learning opportunities the state is providing to help school systems work as teams to better what we do. I honor this work, and love the way it makes what we do better, deeper, and more impactful with regard to students' overall success and interest in school and beyond.