Monday, December 30, 2019

Students, What do you know?

As we continue to engage students in a large number of science-related experiences to teach the standards, system-wide programs, and more, I'm at a point where I want to know what they have learned so far.

Analysis of recent years' science teaching efforts have shown us that while experiences often introduce students to important science concepts and ideas, those experiences don't always spell deep learning and understanding. That kind of deep learning takes a variety of learning endeavor including reflection, response, discussion, presentation, creation, and more.

So today I'll put together a helpful assessment that will give teachers on our team a good idea about what science concepts students have grasped so far and what concepts students still need to explore more.

I'll revisit the many science-related activities students engaged in, create a step-by-step assessment, and then review that assessment with teammates prior to giving students the time to complete the task. Once completed, we'll look carefully at what students understand well, and what we still need to review.

In order to quicken the analysis, I'll likely put the assessment on a Google form which will provide quick results to study. If we want deeper results in specific areas, we can add another assessment to gain that information.

This task will take some time, but it will be an assessment we can use in future years as well so it will be time well spent. Onward.

What is your place in the edusphere?

Yesterday I considered my place in the edusphere. Mostly I am committed to the grade-level students, families, and colleagues I work with daily, however I also share my work and thoughts via social media too.

Long ago I began sharing my educational thinking and work when I was seeking a broader educational group to share with, learn from, and gain support. On many occasions, many from the greater edusphere reached out to support me with good ideas, advice, and connections. That support truly helped me to grow my practice in many, many positive ways. I definitely became a better teacher and advocate for what is right and good in education over time.

I continue to consult the educational landscape as I continue to teach and develop my practice. Though unlike days in the past, I don't have as great a need to reach out beyond the school house these days as I have a strong support team there and a wonderful established PLN online. These support teams lead me to good books, research, conferences, and connections. We have many positive projects in the works and a positive team approach to teaching the students within our charge.

Unlike some in the edusphere, I've chosen to keep the bulk of my work local--to serve and work with the people at my school and in my state teaching/learning community. There have been opportunities to grow my practice outward, but due to my desire to be close to home and to commit to parenting and teaching, I've not embraced those opportunities with as much commitment or dedication. Sometimes, however, I do feel that urge to move beyond the local arena, and that's one reason why I blog, read, research, and write daily.

None of us can be in all places at once. To be a dedicated school teacher demands considerable time and effort. There isn't much left over to grow your practice beyond that environment and love and care for a family too. That's one reason why people have to make choices about where they'll invest their time and energy when it comes to teaching well.

The same is true in most professions--people can't do it all so they have to make choices about where and how they'll invest their energy. Those choices will change from person to person. As we choose, however, we have to be respectful and supportive of all the roles that support the work we do. For example, we could not teach well if we didn't have all the other integral staff in the school, staff such as office personnel, lunchroom workers, teaching assistants, custodians, nurses, and grounds crew. It takes all of us including numerous roles to support a successful school system.

I'm sure that most educators often consider their roles in the edusphere as they continue their careers--it's important to do that. That consideration has to include the respect for all the roles you don't choose, but that you do need--roles that include those who commit to the greater educational environment, educational leaders, researchers/writers, technologists, teaching assistants and so many more. Onward.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Second class citizen

For a long time, I've profited from the intelligence, courage, and great ideas of many educational leaders who share their knowledge, ideas, and questions online. These wonderful educators have greatly increased my capacity to teach well, advocate for promising change, and learn. I am grateful for knowing these educational leaders.

Yet, as I have learned from many of these people, I have felt a bit like a second class citizen. I have noticed that these groups include mainly men and young, beautiful women. Older women are mostly not embraced in these groups. There are a few exceptions here. I have simply accepted this as a fact that I don't fully understand. I have also accepted somewhat harsh responses to my ideas and work also without full understanding.

I know that I don't have the monopoly on knowledge, good speak, and best work, but I do know that I've spent a lifetime learning about teaching and teaching as well as I can. I have committed to continually updating my practice and advocating for research-based, promising change and growth in the field of education locally and beyond whereas many of these ed-leaders spend little time in classrooms or with children--their expertise is somewhat distanced from the challenges we face everyday in schools, and their advice is sometimes not relevant.

On the other hand, their courage and will to research and challenge educational systems, has made me think deeply about what I do and sent me to books, experts, conferences, and learning that I would not have considered before. This has created wonderful opportunity and good work with regard to teaching well. I appreciate this.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. I've thought about it often. This is my first attempt to express this situation. What do you think?

Big think to local action

Big think can leave us with grandiose plans about changing the world, but unless we translate that big think into local action, nothing will happen.

I've been thinking big all morning, and now it's time to translate that big think into local action--what will I do?

  • Focus on our grade-level environmental science curriculum. We are involving the students in lots of standards-based, hands-on environmental education and advocacy. This is positive in so many ways.
  • Focus on teaching a multi-modal, hands-on, standards-based math program that provides students with a strong foundation of mathematical skill, thinking, problem solving, and analyses. 
  • Focus on reading the book, Just Mercy, as I focus on my 2020 one-word, reverence.
  • Make time to welcome and support family members as they celebrate milestone events, persevere in work/school endeavor, connect with and build relations with loved ones, and live good lives.
  • Focus on the kind of self-care that allows me to live well and do well by others.
  • Make time to reflect and plan for the future in ways that match my values and dreams.
  • Speak out and work against hate and injustice via research, reading, writing, and support for political candidates and leaders who promote the best of whom we can be as a people and nation.

How can we counter hate in the classroom?

I grew up in the sixties when there was a considerable emphasis on love, not hate. Martin Luther King, Jr's words were in the news daily, hippies and yippies were protesting the war in Vietnam, leaders were challenging people to serve one another.

My dad would share news articles with us nightly. At the dinner table, we discussed peace, protests, prejudice, religion, and more. Our teachers prompted similar discussions. I grew up hopeful about positive growth and change.

At my junior high, I met students from many religions and cultures. I also had teachers that represented many religions and cultures. Their words further educated me. The books I read and discussed at school provided me with a broader foundation of understanding of people all over the world, and later my friends and family members who traveled and worked abroad provided me with more education about this. After that I had the chance to travel some and learn even more.

I have always been intrigued and interested in the great diversity the world holds, and I have always been struck by the fact that amongst all that diversity, we mainly hold many same values and truths when it comes to family, children, the environment, and justice. While some may strike out against those who are different from them or for their own fame and gain, I still believe that most people around the world want the best for all--most want to build a just, peaceful, and fair world.

Sadly, in the recent past, there has been an uptick in hate crimes, hate speech, and prejudice. The world over has elevated leaders who are self-serving hate mongers rather than peace-loving, just leaders. Unfortunately, we see this in our own country as President Trump and his cronies lead for a few rich folk in hateful ways rather than lead for all Americans with win-win direction, action, and solution. Hopefully this is an overcorrection that will be righted soon. Impeachment is the first step--all Americans must stand up and work for next steps to rid our country of such me-first, hate-spewing leadership.

In the meantime, educators everywhere can work against hate in the following ways:
  • Find ways to represent all voices, lifestyles, cultures, races, and religions in the curriculum. Use video, literature, expert visitors, field studies, and research to broaden students' exposure to the diversity our country and world represents.
  • Look for ways to highlight the contributions good people from all walks of life have brought to our world--don't just share the stories of well-represented groups, but instead make sure you share the good stories from underrepresented groups.
  • When hate shows its ugly face, deal with it right away in educational ways that share the facts, background stories, and related information. 
  • Invite family members to tell their stories and share their cultures with the students--that's a great way for the entire community to learn about the diversity that exists.
Educators play an important role when it comes to promoting peace rather than hate. What ways do you deal with this in your classroom and school environment? What other ideas do you have? 

Spewing Hate

I have followed an individual who challenges my thinking for a long time. The person represents an underrepresented group, and I have used that person's words to grow my understanding, sensitivity, and advocacy with regard to that group and people in general.

Yet, recently that individual's post spewed such hate that I had to block the individual--the post shared felt like getting hit over the head with a hammer. It was hurtful, painful, and offensive. I blocked the individual, an individual who clearly holds great anger and hate for others. I can understand where this hate and anger come from, but I wonder if her hateful posts do more to inflame greater prejudice and hate rather than educate, teach, and grow compassion.

This event has made me think about my own posts and ability to be compassionate to individuals who have struck out at me via words and actions--can I be forgiving and patient enough to accept the fact that they might not understand who I am or where I am coming from--do my posts distance rather than draw people near? I have not experienced the level of prejudice or hate this individual has experienced so I can't fully put myself in that person's shoes and I remain compassionate, but I can no longer accept such hateful, belittling, and painful posts from that person.

We all have to be cautious when it comes to spewing hate toward any individuals or groups. We may not agree with them or see it from their point of view, but we have to be patient and peaceful--hate does no one any good.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Take care of yourself

Early in the fall, in the midst of some professional chaos, I caught a nasty illness. I did go to the doctor who ruled out anything serious and I lived with the sickness for several days. I never really recovered before I caught another illness. In both cases, the sicknesses were being passed around at school and many were sick with coughs, congestion, body aches, and other infections. That's not uncommon in schools where people have such close contact day after day.

Nevertheless, throughout the fall, I lived with some congestion that just didn't go away. I resisted seeing the doctor mostly because when you teach, there's little 9-5 time to see a doctor since that takes hours to get there, be seen, and do the follow-up work so I lived with the congestion. Finally during the holiday break, my family insisted that I go, and I am so glad that I listened to them as I was finally able to meet with the doctor and start a protocol that lifted the congestion, gave me a good night's sleep and put me on the road to recovery. Yes, I should have done this earlier.

I know I'm not alone as a teacher or a mom when it comes to delaying the care I sometimes need. Teachers and moms often put the needs of their students and children ahead of their own needs, and it's very difficult for teachers and moms to find time to get the care they need since they are taking care of others day in and day out, but we have to support one another to make that happen. We have to be willing to use our sick days at work, reach out to friends and family members to watch our children, and make time to see doctors when we need to.

Not only is it difficult to see a doctor, but it is also difficult to find a doctor who is nearby and take patients as well as health plans that are of high quality. Too often, doctors are hard to find, and health plans difficult to manage. I have had to change doctors numerous times due to all kinds of reasons. I have my fingers crossed that the good doctor and office I recently found remains in place for a while--the distance is not too far, the doctor is obviously committed and knowledgeable, the office is run well, and needed labs and hospitals are nearby. This is good.

It may sound silly, but I believe that many of us stay satisfied with subpar conditions, conditions that don't support our best health care, parenting, education, and environment. We don't recognize the power we have if we use our collaboration, time, imagination, and intelligence more to better conditions for excellence as parents, teachers, and community members. In some ways, I think that's why people shy away from candidates for national, state, and local contests who have good ideas about bettering conditions for good living and instead lean towards macho candidates who are manipulative rather than helpful.

Ideas such as quality, accessible health care for all, free high quality  public schools and colleges, optimal environmental protections, a four-day work week, affordable child care, sensible gun laws, and more equitable taxation will elevate living for all people, and in turn, build a stronger country for everyone. We all have to take care of ourselves, and we all have to advocate for the conditions that help us to do that--to live and work in ways that compromise the good parenting or teaching or other services we provide is not god for anyone. We can do better.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Teaching in the New Year 2020

As I prepare to delve into the holiday preparations and events, I want to put school to rest with a focus on where we'll begin on the first day back.

Class Meeting
Students who are clearly approaching Middle School will profit from a class meeting that focuses on expectations. As crushes begin to emerge, it's important to discuss how we are respectful to one another including each other's interests and confidences. It's also important to reiterate the pride I have for students' amazing effort, kindness, collaboration, and care during the first leg of the school year. And, there will be time for students to share ideas about how to make the classroom the best possible space for learning, making friends, and being a strong and caring team.

We'll make time to organize our work spaces, materials, and classroom.

Climate Change Projects
We'll make time to discuss upcoming climate change projects--projects that will focus on preserving the SUASCO watershed area. We'll make teams, talk about project ideas, and begin this effort.

We'll discuss the importance of reading each day, finding just-right books--books that we want to read, and contributing to the kind of classroom that supports positive reading habits.

Students will take an assessment that demonstrates the science they've learned so far this year, an assessment that will help teachers complete upcoming progress reports and plan for science curriculum efforts going forward.

Students will review their efforts on the past unit which focused on multiplication of whole numbers and decimals then move on to a unit focused on division of whole numbers and decimals.

Special Events
There will be many wonderful special events coming up including field studies, expert visitors and more. There's a bit of paperwork to complete to prepare for those events.

Grant Writing
We're hoping to invite an animator to come and talk about his work--students are intrigued by animation, and we all want to learn more.

Boosting the Team
We have an amazing teaching/learning team of teachers, family members, students, and community members--we'll likely communicate an update with this team when we return and look for ways to enrich the work we do together to serve the students.

The plans are made, and now it's time to focus on family, friends, and the holiday prep and events.

Math Program: Conditions for Success

The team has been working on the math program for years. There's been lots of discussion and debate as we translate state standards and system-expectations into a student-centered teaching/learning program. So far we have put into place many structures that work well with regard to supporting every learner.

What have we done?

Team with Families
We communicate what we are doing and how families can help us out weekly. We also place almost all teaching/learning materials online so that interested families can access the materials 24-7. Families have responded favorably by reaching out with clarifying questions and information. They've also helped out by working with their children on home study assignments and enrichment when possible and desirable. Family members are a critical and helpful part of the learning team.

Team with Colleagues
We have a 90-minute period every Friday when all teachers and teaching assistants related to the fifth grade team teach math. Together, we target what we'll do and how we'll do it. We mix and match student-teacher groups depending on need and provide needed accommodations as helpful to students. Further, about every two weeks, the entire team meets to discuss the math program including how we can maximize our individual and collective efforts to help all students.

Multiple, Accessible Practice Opportunities
We provide students with lots and lots of varied practice opportunities including unit paper/pencil study packets, online practice tests, a website resource that includes examples, practice opportunities, explanations, and games, small group teacher help, and more.

Brain-Friendly, Positive Program Teaching/Learning Strategies
The team continues to read and study the many ways to teach math deeply and effectively. We embed new research and strategies regularly into the curriculum program to best support students so essentially while we are teaching math, we are also teaching students how to learn. Some brain-friendly strategies we use include the following:
  • Multi-sensory learning: see it, say it, hear it, touch it, create it.
  • Visual learning: match concepts with visual models including pictures, animations.
  • Rhymes and repetition via math concept songs, poems, stories.
  • Relevancy via math problem solving and activities that relate to today's world in ways that matter.
  • Ready response practice exercises where students can practice on their own and immediately see if they are on target or not.
  • Make it big: when a concept is difficult enlarge the models to make a bigger impression on the brain.
  • Color coding concepts to deepen the learning.
  • Inquiry-based teaching/learning with multi-step performance tasks.
  • Math dances with Go-Noodle and other venues.
  • Current events talks: looking at how knowing math is related to current events issues.
  • Think aloud introductions.
  • Collaborative learning events and practice.
  • Regular varied assessments to inform the teaching/learning program.
  • Student reflection and decision making via showcase portfolios.
The math program includes five sixty-minute periods a week, two RTI periods, and as available extra time during school and after school for student study and practice. Of course it would be great to have even more time for math, but our team teaches many other subjects as well.

We are trying to integrate math into project based learning and other topics of study during the school day, but the foundation focus of the math program and the need to practice to solidify these skills makes this a bit more challenging, but we're still working on this.

Support for Students Who Need More or Different
We continually assess how children are doing and together look for ways to help those who are not meeting expected learning progress or success. So far that has translated to extra one-to-one teacher or teaching assistant support, parent-teacher discussions/strategizing, targeted online supports, coaching meetings, and more personalized approaches to support success.

We have many materials that assist student learning including the following:
  • white boards, markers, erasers
  • one-to-one chromebooks
  • dice, tiles, colored pencils, paper, scissors, tape. . . .
  • presentation board, speakers, document camera
  • math website: Magnificent Math
Our many years of debate and discussion related to the math program is resulting in a solid program with wonderful potential for even more growth and success. The hard work and many times messy collegial work has moved us forward in ways that matter. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Study time

I think that most teachers try to schedule learning in ways that maximize students' opportunity for success. As we roll into the holiday break, we have a few days to solidify learning for the unit three math test--a few days to allow students to think deeply about what it means to study.

How will that work?

Today, I'll review the last concept of the unit left to review, a problem solving focus. Then I'll talk to students about the many ways available to study for the unit including completing the study packet, practicing with online exercises, and completing the online/offline practice test on their own or with friends. Then I'll work to help students with their study by clarifying confusing points, coaching best study routines, and encouraging those who may not be using the time well.

It's a luxury to have these days to focus in on study--a focus, if used well, will result in positive learning.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Teachers have to prioritize

For years I advocated for better structure, routines, and programs at school, and now, for the most part, that advocacy has resulted in a better schedule, routine, and program. The changes are not that visible if you're looking in from the outside, but from the inside, the changes translate to a terrific opportunity to serve every child better.

What has happened?

Shared Teaching Model
The change from one-teacher-one-classroom to a shared teaching model has taken the isolation out of teaching and provided a team approach to teaching all children at the grade-level. This team approach has eliminated the competition that would sometimes occur between classrooms and allow all the grade-level teachers to maximize our strengths to build and carry out the best possible teaching/learning program for children.

Interdisciplinary Projects
Since I started teaching 34 years ago, interdisciplinary projects have been a hallmark of the education system I work within. Our team has continued this focus with a number of interdisciplinary teaching efforts that have made learning rich and meaningful.

Positive Schedule
Thanks to the efforts of many and yearly advocacy to review and better the teaching/learning schedule, we have a good weekly routine that allows us to teach children well.

Wonderful Program Elements
Thanks to local and other grant sources, our team has been able to try out many new learning elements, programs, partnerships, and special events. Some of these trials proved to be not as deep and helpful as we wanted and others have now become wonderful additions to the curriculum program. We continually weed, prune, and add to our grade-level teaching garden to make the program as good as possible.

Sufficient Materials
Similar to program elements, we have also worked to collect the materials we need to teach the program well.

Continued Professional Learning
Our team is always learning. We're connected to many wonderful educators via social media, take advantage of system and state-sponsored learning events, read books, belong to professional organizations, and work together to constantly embed new learning into our teaching/learning program.

Communication and Technology
We use technology to effectively and regularly communicate with all members of the learning team including students, educators, family members, and the greater community. We are fortunate to have a Chromebook for every child, a computer for every teacher, iPads, and other wonderful tech devices.

Teacher Planning Time
We have a good amount of planning time each week, and if we reduced our teaching supervisory duties, that would give us even more planning time which would be helpful.

Essentially we have the teaching/learning environment that gives us the opportunity to teach well every day. Of course, there remains areas for improvement. The greatest need right now is more hands-on-deck. A few more skilled teaching assistants at school would make our programs even stronger since current teacher-student ratios make it difficult to get to every student as often as we would like. We also could use more space and more modern spaces to uplift our teaching in some areas. We'll continue to advocate for those changes in the days to come.

Teachers can't be everyperson, instead we have to prioritize. In the teaching/learning environment where I work, we have many of the criteria we need for deep and meaningful service to children. This is positive and means that my priority now is to best utilize the positive structures, routines, program elements, and materials available to teach well while also advocating for more staffing for direct support of children, a bit more teacher autonomy, more and better spaces for teaching/learning, and continued rich, research-based, student-centered program development. Onward.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Sometimes you don't have the answer

Earlier this week I became upset over an issue. I analyzed the issue afterwards and recognized that should a similar issue arise, I need to call for help rather than get upset. A similar issue occurred today and I did call for help. The help came and there was not upset or error--it was the right choice.

No one teacher can be all things to all people. In classrooms we are met with many challenges as we work to teach all the children. There are many challenges we successfully address day after day, but there are some challenges that are very complex and difficult to solve.

There's been one challenge this year that the team has tried multiple ways to solve, and while there has been some success, we're still challenged to solve the problem in ways the I feel truly spell success. I'm not giving up, but I admit it's a tough problem to solve for many reasons.

By focusing on successful strategies this morning, it was a good day of teaching with lots of learning success. I plan to do the same in the following days, and I also plan to hold off on anything new at this point in the year. There will be time for that after the holidays.  Onward.

Impeachment Impact

I must say that the impeachment process has had an affect on my life--it's devastating to have a President of the United States act in lawless ways as it's potential lost and a threat to our good laws and country.

When you work in an industry that serves people, it's horrible to have a national leader who works against the welfare of so many by leading with cronyism, lawlessness, disrespect, and shady dealings. He works in opposition to almost everything we promote in schools as we reach for civil, respectful, inclusive learning environments.

It's been a challenging week on many fronts, and the impeachment situation has definitely been part of the problem.

What's Working: The Good Work We Do

As I smart from yesterday's upset, I want to focus on the good work we do, the work that makes a difference and hold on to those practices in the days ahead.

Morning Greeting
I've started greeting every child every morning. It's not as easy as it seems since I tend to notice lots of issues that require a discussion or support during these greetings. It's a busy time, but I know that I'm saying each child's name every day and helping them to get a good start.

Morning Routine
Every day we're working to have every child read for at least ten minutes at the start of the day. This is also the time when students collect their supplies to start the day well. This is important to a good day.

Well-Planned Learning Experiences
Our team plans ahead and thinks carefully about each learning experience. We update these experiences as needed and provide plenty of personalization. This is good.

A Good Schedule
It's a tight schedule, but overall a good schedule that includes a varied palette for good learning.

Playful Recess
We have a great playground and students have plenty of time to play.

Students may have their snacks when they are hungry--this generally works well.

Special Events and Field Studies
We have a lot of these experiences which makes learning fun and interesting.

Collegial Planning
We have good time to plan together--this is good.

Regular Communication
We communicate the teaching/learning plans to all in the learning community regularly with detail--this works well.

As I rise from yesterday's fall, I'll focus on the good work we're doing and forego any new ideas for a while. Time to build good energy with tried-and-true practice. Onward.

Pick up the pieces; restart

Yesterday was a tough day. I let typical challenges get to me, and I got upset in the classroom. I hate when this happens and work to reduce events like these as much as possible. The week, in general, has been tough due to a number of issues that have made teaching more difficult than usual.

What can a teacher do when this happens?

First, analyze why it happened. I've been chasing the teaching ball all week due to events both inside and outside of the school house--events that have zapped my good energy. Teachers need good energy to teach well. Therefore, when issues zap our energy, you have to figure out what to do about those issues because you need your energy to teach well.

Next, act on issues sooner or later. When issues fester, they rarely get better. One issue that led to the upset has existed for weeks, yet I haven't been able to arrive at a good solution for the situation. I have to accept the issue as is or strive to find the solution needed. I can't simply let it fester without a decision as that leads to frustration.

And, I have to lower my expectations a bit. No lesson or learning experience will be perfect especially since so many factors affect student learning especially at exciting holiday times. I have to take what I can get and not fret so much about what doesn't happen.

I made amends to the many who witnessed or were affected by the upset--that's not professional and not appropriate. I am truly sorry that it happened.

Today, I'll get back on track. Fortunately the lessons are planned and ready to go. I also eliminated some scheduling challenges to create more energy for good teaching.

It's embarrassing and hurtful to get upset at school. It's one of those "don't go there" actions that good teachers avoid. The times I've reached that point are not too many, but ideally, I'd like it to be a zero count.

Today's a new day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Big Picture Teaching and Learning in the New Year

This year more than any other, we have a terrific infrastructure for teaching well. We have an awesome team, dedicated learning community including students, families, educators, and community members, a wonderful local union, and significant support. This is very positive. The challenge is to keep up with this infrastructure and meet the promise it holds for good teaching.

As for the day-to-day, what supports our program most are the following:
  • teaching the standards and learning program--good standards and a good program
  • continuing to send a weekly newsletter as one way to strengthen our team approach to teaching all students
  • continuing to update our teaching/learning plans and shared information memo
  • planning for and executing the many special programs and events we have planned
  • reviewing student work regularly and responding with the supports and learning events students need to progress
Sticking to this daily/weekly effort is critical to teaching well, and to do that we have to make sure we continue to do the good work possible each week.

As for the big picture, my job has a lot to do with finesse now--how can I teach this good program better with a good demeanor and serious, but positive, attitude. This depends a lot on a healthy schedule that leaves time to do the good work possible--a weekly routine that includes healthy food, plenty of sleep, and the time I need to do the good work required.

I can tighten up the routine a bit more with the following structures:
  • newsletter sent out once a week - mostly Fridays or Mondays
  • teaching schedule and materials shared and prepared at least one week ahead of scheduled programming
  • professional learning events planned for and shared ahead of time typically at PLCs
  • Making more time to institute and support a positive morning routine that includes at least ten minutes of silent reading every morning--this makes time for dealing with the many small issues that typically arise at the start of the school day. 
A good routine matters. 

With regard to professional learning, I plan to do the following:
  • Complete the DESE evaluation pilot I've started with a team of teachers at school
  • Continue to read about and forward our grade-level environmental science unit
  • Continue to read about and forward our grade-level math program
  • Read the books I've set aside this summer to further develop the teaching/learning program
  • Re-organize classroom materials to update classroom to meet program changes and development.
  • Attending the METCO conference next year--a conference I've heard good things about, but have not attended. 
As far as the collegial efforts, I want to be more supportive of the creativity and new ideas that many colleagues are forwarding to uplift the teaching/learning program.

Now it's time to focus in on the program and children at this busy holiday time. Onward. 

Math concepts; jump right in

Yesterday's math lesson was a bit abrupt. We just jumped right into a new concept. If I had the luxury of lots and lots of time, I may have started the concept with a slower pace, but time is an issue when it comes to teaching all the concepts students are expected to learn, and I know that while jumping in makes a few nervous, does accelerate the learning of the concept for most students. I'll back track to make sure those who were a bit frustrated by the quick introduction get the attention they need for a more sensitive review.

Sometimes there's value to jumping right in, especially if it is a concept that you know most will be able to master without too much trouble, and a concept that children will understand more via practice than teacher talk. Today we'll continue to look at this concept with greater depth and focus. Let's see what happens.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Wrong turns

Oh my, it's been one wrong turn after another the last few weeks. What's the reason? I think it is mainly because it's time to think anew about what was once familiar territory. The changes to life's landscape have been considerable, and now it is time to update the way I travel the road.

What needs to change?

Greater Sensitivity
I'm not sure if I'm more attuned or people are more sensitive, but greater sensitivity is required in all aspects of life. The movie, Late Night, is a good exaggeration of this point as Emma Thompson realizes she has to retire some of her old, harsh ways to empathize and show greater sensitivity. This is a point of life when it's often better to wait until people come to you with questions than to be forthright with your observations or opinions. It's time to teach and communicate more by action than words.

Less Busy Schedule
I'm finding that I desire a narrower, but deeper scope with regard to the work I do and life I lead. In order to go deeper, you have to do less. Skimming the surface of issues and endeavors does not lend itself to depth.

Listen More
I'm surrounded by many bright people who are living life with wonderful intelligence, drive, creativity, and spirit. Rather than lead in many situations, I am best to be led by these amazing colleagues, friends, and family members.

It is a time for greater creativity in multiple modalities. For example it's a good time to get creative with cooking, travel, entertaining, and making things.

To learn more about this relatively renewed place in life, it's essential to explore.

Wrong turns generally lead us to new directions if we are open minded to the twists and turns this direction takes us, and that is generally not a problem. Onward.

Back on Track: Teaching Well

It was a wonderful holiday weekend until I came home and listened to the news which made me fall down the Trump hole--a hole that catches you unaware and leaves you trapped for a long time until you figure out what to do with respect to this errant President and his seemingly uninformed and errant or robotic followers.

The truth is that the Trump team does not in any way support educators, moms, and community members like me--their exclusive and bigoted hopes and dreams for the country do not match my inclusive vision of good living and voice and choice for all.

But, to fall down the deadly trump hole is a purely negative experience that zaps your energy and leaves you lifeless--it's a depressing fall. So, now that above the dank dungeon, it's time to focus on the positive week of teaching and family life ahead. What matters?

First, as always, a healthy routine is imperative to teaching well--good sleep, good food, and good active work sets the stage for positive teaching.

Next, what I'm teaching this week is not simple and I'll relay that fact to the students--the study of traditional multiplication will take students' good concentration and repetition. It won't take time if students give it their good energy. After that we'll backtrack to the more interesting and meaningful parts of the multiplication unit.

As for science, students will take a thoughtful assessment on Friday to review all the science we've taught so far this year and to get ready for their upcoming work on the climate change projects. Prepping the assessment will take some deep, energized work this week.

We also have a professional meeting to review our project assessment pilot--we have a few details to shore up before we move forward with that. There will be a joyful school concert too and we'll continue watching Miracle at Moreaux, a great movie that builds empathy and understanding of life with both historical, social, and psychological lens.

It's the holidays too, and soon my house will be filled with friends and relatives day after day. That means I've got some cooking and cleaning to do in order to make our home the warm, welcoming place I'd like it to be.

I'll lift myself from any falls down the Trump hole in the next few weeks with the following actions:

  • Stay far away from any pro-Trump talk or action--clearly this President is an errant leader who leads for his own survival, fame, and gain, and not the interests of most Americans. 
  • Listen and read the news to stay abreast of his errant actions, words, and direction.
  • Work to do positive work that opposes his team's lawless, wasteful efforts.
I've worked with errant leaders before. I know what their self-serving weight can do to your pysche, energy, and efforts. You can only take them in small doses or else they become a bulldozer to your spirit and potential. Keep it positive. Celebrate the good all around, and work for betterment. That's my mantra this season. Onward. 

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Teaching ahead; December 2019

Overall students have been ready and eager to learn this week. That's good!

Operations with Whole Numbers and Decimals
In math, we're focusing in on math operations with decimals and whole numbers. There's lots of model making, problem solving, and calculation as students strengthen these skills.

Climate Fair: We Love the Earth
For science, students are gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to steward our local SUASCO watershed. In the next few weeks, small teams will decide on an advocacy project that will help students and families in our community to better care for and protect the watershed. This small team advocacy will provide students with the opportunity to work together to research, create, and forward a positive effort that will culminate in a February 14th climate fair at school.

Reading, Reading, and More Reading
The changes in staffing and focus for RTI have really helped with regard to student reading. We'll continue to work at this.

Students will work with the writing teacher to complete their informative writing and then write their "Trapped in a Snow Globe" stories.

Science Assessment
We'll give students a science assessment in January to determine what information they gained as we taught to several of the science standards this fall.

Class Films
The class films bring the team together with good discussion and curiosity. Right now we're watching "Miracle of Moreaux" which depicts a both troubling and positive situation that occurs during World War II over the holidays in a small village in France. Later we'll watch "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" to see an example of tenacity, ingenuity, and STEAMwork to inspires students abilities in those areas.

As a professional team, we'll discuss a few areas of school life which could profit from finesse. Specifically we'll look at adding a bit more coaching for students who will profit from that. We'll also strategize around the needs of a few students who are not succeeding with the standards as well as we would expect--we need to change how we are teaching these students in some ways. We'll also zero in on the climate fair and upcoming field studies.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Snow Day Opportunity

I was so glad that it was a snow day. That meant that I could tackle a large pile of student papers with good energy and a cup of coffee. I was able to analyze the math program so far as I reviewed students' work. It gave me a great idea about how students were moving along with the learning including who is getting what they need and who needs more or different.

The snow day gave me a chance to reach out to families too with regard to learning opportunities and expectations. Many families responded with questions and comments--that also helped me to think about the program overall and with regard to individual students. There was some time to catch up with personal affairs too. Everyone needs a snow day now and then.

Of course when I was a young mom, a snow day meant time caring for my children, not time to catch up on work or personal affairs. Which leaves me to wonder how we might change the school schedule a bit so teachers have the time they need to do the good work possible. Too often our minute-to-minute time-on-task responsibilities prevent us from the deep, good work possible. I think there's opportunity to change that, but I haven't given it enough thought to provide answers at this moment.

In summary, I don't think that systems or any work places should fret the snow day--a good snow day often keeps people safe, provides a bit of a respite, and gives children time to play. There's nothing wrong with that.

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.