Friday, January 31, 2020

What is the best way to assess holistic teaching programs?

Today our team will meet with a Massachusetts Department of Education cohort to explore ways to best assess teaching and learning programs. We applied to be apart of this initiative so that we could explore how to assess holistic teaching efforts. Specifically we are looking deeply at assessing a holistic, interdisciplinary environmental science unit that we promote at fifth grade. The unit involves reading, writing, social studies, math, and science standards and learning experiences that focus on the SUASCO watershed including numerous varied learning opportunities.

To accurately assess such a broad, inclusive learning event is not easy, yet important. It is easy to assess a simple lesson, standard, or unit of study, but not so easy to assess an interdisciplinary unit of study. However, if we only teach what's easy to assess, we will deny our students rich learning experiences. But if we don't find ways to accurately assess these rich learning events, we may build interdisciplinary units that do not result in positive learning in the long run.

Years ago I was a new proponent of hands-on learning and science education. In school, I learned science from mostly reading texts. I found it boring and difficult to understand, but as a student of education, I learned about all the wonderful ways to teach and learn science with hands-on activities, field studies, and investigations. That experience inspired me to enjoy science and learn more. I wanted to replicate that with my students, but needed more information. I expressed that interest to system leaders at that time, and they responded by providing a hands-on science learning class at a local university. We were all invited to investigate in the lab. Yet, the learning was too open ended. I didn't know where to start, and the experience resulted in little to no learning for me. While it was a holistic, interdisciplinary learning event meant to inspire and educate, the results were terrible since we learned little and our programming for students did not benefit much.

What I did learn, however, from the experience was that holistic, interdisciplinary units need to be well designed in order to result in positive learning and inspiration. There's lots of room for these units to fail, and without reliable assessments, it's difficult to understand where the units worked and where they failed. So that's why we signed up to be apart of this state-wide initiative.

Today, we'll meet with the cohort for the second time. During the first meeting, we identified three ways to measure some of our main goals for the unit of study including content goals and social-emotional learning goals. Today we'll look deeply at the assessments we chose and the goals we want to assess. In many ways, we are navigating uncharted waters here which makes our work challenging. Yet, we have the benefit of working with many talented people as well as experts related to assessment.

As I begin today's effort, I want to be mindful of the following information and questions:
  1. I want to revisit the unit goals we identified as important to assess.
  2. I want to review the assessments we chose with my colleagues to make sure we've chosen the right tools and questions.
  3. I want to review with colleagues the process for assessment we'll use and create a good timeline for that process.
Beyond today, I want to think about and learn more about ways to design and assess interdisciplinary units of study--what is the best way to determine if we are reaching the goals we want to reach in meaningful and beneficial ways with big, broad units like this? I welcome any ideas or feedback you may have. 

What's Ahead: School Year 2019-2020

It has been a busy and productive school year so far. And as always, how we use time, advocate, collaborate, and teach matters. There is always more that we can do, and time is always a limitation we face. That's why it is essential that we consider how we use time and where our focus is as we move forward in the school year.

Currently the main areas of focus for my efforts on the team include the following:

Environmental Science Study and Projects
We are approaching our culminating efforts for the environmental portion of our science study. The main focus of this work is students' climate change advocacy projects, projects that help students educate others and make good change in the local environment. There's lots to do to complete these student-led projects that will be showcased at our school climate fair in March.

More Science Study
We also have many more science learning experiences to teach in the days ahead and prior to the state MCAS science test in May.

Math Study
As always there is a lot of math to teach, explore, and practice. Students are making good progress and we have to stay the course with this. They will take state and systemwide tests in math too.

Other areas that will take a lot of time and focus include the ELA MCAS tests, fifth grade play, fifth grade biography project, and a number of special events. Fortunately we have a February break coming up soon which will give me some added planning time to prepare for these events. Onward.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The kids let you know when it is time for a change

There's a breath of spring in the air today, and there's also the nudging to change the routine a bit to better accommodate the students. Some disgruntled and obstinate behavior demonstrated the need to revisit the routine in place to better support the children's needs and interests. Whether it be your children at home or children at school, they have both subtle and overt ways to let you know when it is time for change. Onward.

Today's Focus: A Deeper Understanding of the Base-Ten Place System

Today, I'll work with students to better understand the difference and similarities of division equations with decimals. We'll look closely at the relationships between the dividends, divisors, and quotients in these equations. I'll suggest that students think about money as they study these relationships. This is a difficult concept to teach fifth graders. I welcome any ideas you have.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Keep the momentum going

Students have been studying how the the base ten numeral system works since September. This week and next marks the end of the first big push in that area. Then students will have an assessment to determine what they've mastered. Right now, the goal is to keep the momentum going since the last few days of this study is a bit messy with students at many different points and needing a variety of supports.

What will I do to keep the momentum going?

First, I'll keep a list of who has completed the study packet--a packet that includes a number of questions, models, and exercises related to the study focus. I'll share that list with the students, and give them time to finish on their own, with classmates, and with teacher support.

Next, I'll encourage students to work towards completion of the fifth grade online Symphony Math exercises. These exercises are a great match for the current learning.

And, students will have the chance to complete an online Google form content review on Friday and a Google form practice test next week.

There's a short, related homework assignment that they are tasked with completing too.

So, there are many study opportunities and lots of ways to complete those tasks both in school and at home. I'll continue the mantra that success is within their grasp if they do the following:
  • Stay on task during study times
  • Choose optimal work partners
  • Ask questions and seek support when they don't understand
  • Have confidence in their ability to learn if they follow these steps
  • Know that a strong foundation in math skill, process, and thinking leads to success in all areas of life--it's important to develop apt mathematical thinking skills and abilities
I'm very proud of the students' tenacity and success to date--they've made great progress. In these next few days, I'll work to keep that momentum going. And, following the assessment next week, we'll enter into an engaging, hands-on volume exploration that invites creativity, problem solving, and lots of choice which will be a nice complement to this mostly online and paper pencil study this week and next. Onward. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Time Investment

Where do you invest your time?

Recently I made an inquiry and got no response. I wasn't surprised since I received an inquiry that I didn't respond to either. Why didn't I respond? Simply put, I didn't respond because my time is spoken for--there are no more minutes in the day to do that work, and I suspect that is why no one responded to my inquiry as well--there's rarely a minute left in the day.

Is this different than in the past? Did we have more time in the past or I am imagining that. The job of teaching has always been busy, but perhaps with an experienced staff and ample materials, what we can do is amazing and we're spending our time doing that deep and good work, work that includes personalizing lessons, collaborative meetings, curriculum research, professional learning, student response, family meetings and more.

So, as I think of some of the less supported initiatives in my midst, I am fully aware that we can't do it all and it is a matter of choosing what is most important to do and for the most part, that is serving the children in front of you each and every day. Onward.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Things may be different than they seem

The teacher is sitting at the front of the room while children are working. It may seem like the teacher is taking a rest, but in truth, that teacher may be observing the room, watching closely to notice what's happening with regard to a particular student, group, or effort.

The child is alone in the hall. The teacher is not there. Why, you may wonder. Sometimes, a teacher may leave a child by themselves for a few minutes for good reasons. Of course the teacher has to believe that the situation is safe and justified, but again, things may not be as they seem.

A teacher may speak to a child with the kind of candor that seems abrupt, but unless you talk to the teacher to understand the roots of the discussion, it is difficult to judge the situation.

I guess what I'm saying is that none of us should be too quick to judge an educational observation without a conversation. Of course there are extremes, both good and not so good, that we can judge, but in general, it's not a good idea to judge a situation. Instead, ask questions such as what are your expectations or how can I help rather than assuming you understand what's going on. Lesson to self as well.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Next Week: Friday Musings

Before the weekend starts, I like to have the focus for the next school week set.

Climate Change Projects/Environmental Science
I'll do a deep review of this work on Sunday afternoon to prepare for a number of classroom and professional learning events next week.

Math Learning and Finesse
We're at the final weeks of a number of related math units. I'll spend a lot of time focusing in on individual learners to answer their questions, review their work, and help them to master the concepts we've studied. I'll also review students' work to date at the end of the week for a big pass-back on Monday, February 3.

Staff Celebration
I'll work with colleagues to prepare for a staff celebration.

I'll focus in on reading goals with individual students.

Field Trip Musings

I have grown to love field trips because of the way these explorations open children's eyes and introduce them to worlds they might not imagined before. That's what happened today when we visited the McAuliffe Challenger Center to take a virtual trip to Mars and learn about the universe in the center's planetarium.

Similar to the betterment we seek with all things we do, I want to continually create a best possible venue of field trip experiences. We have a wonderful list of places to visit--places that match our standards-based program, SEL, and culturally proficient teaching goals. We typically have terrific family support for these trips including lots of chaperones, and I am finding that the places we visit have become more and more alined to the standards and modern ways of teaching and learning. While we are continually developing our programs for betterment, the places that we visit are developing their programs and offerings as well.

So as I assess our collection of field studies, I want to start with what's working:
  • The field studies open eyes, broaden perspectives, spur curiosity, teach the standards, and develop a greater sense of a learning community.
  • The field studies not only teach the students, but the teachers learn as well which helps us to teach the curriculum even better.
  • The field studies develop our family-student-teacher team since family members, students, and teacher embark on the trips together.
How can we make these trips better?
  • Next year we're going to look more closely at scheduling since we don't want to miss some of the programming at school and we want to choose the best possible days for these trips. 
  • I also want to think about student behavior--while most students behave beautifully on these trips, a few have trouble with self regulation and good conduct. I want to think about ways that we can prep students well for behavioral expectations. This may mean working more closely with specialists to think about children who may have special challenges in this regard.
  • I would like our special educators and other specialists to attend some of these trips with us in order to best support student learning. I want to think about how we might make this happen more often.
  • I want to make sure we have sufficient parent chaperone support for every trip. We recently fixed one problem related to this, and I have some ideas about how we might attract more parents for trips that are less supported.
  • Visiting the places that we visit with the children prior to the trip can also help us to target the visit in the most meaningful ways.
  • Continuing to look for grant money to support the trips helps to defray the costs.
  • While safety and good behavior are important, I also want to work on having a bit more levity during the trips. I admit I am super vigilant about safety and behavior, but I think can continue to lead that while also bringing a bit lighter and more playful attitude on the trips. 
These field studies are an important part of our overall program because the trips invigorate the learning in ways that we can't replicate in the classroom, ways, that I believe have a positive impact on student learning well into the future. Onward. 

Politics in the classroom?

Yesterday students had a heated debate in the lunch room related to politics. It seemed like the impeachment news and events had trickled down to elementary school conversations. Clearly, it was time to provide some background information and give students a chance to talk.

At the elementary school, I do not share my personal political views, but instead teach students about our laws and rules of government. The focus of our discussion was that in the United States we have freedom to share our opinions, and we also have a responsibility to debate one another's point of view with respect. Then I opened up the discussion for students to share their points of view and ask questions.

I was inspired by students' respect to one another as they shared their differing points of view. I was also struck by their questions. In Massachusetts we have good fifth social studies standards which lay a wonderful foundation for understanding our government, and the challenge is to find ways to fit those standards into our already full curriculum.

After the discussion, I reached out to family members to continue the discussion at home. Sometimes we may think that students aren't aware of what is going on in the greater community, but the reality is that they are listening so it is good to make time time to discuss the issues with children in developmentally appropriate ways.

It is likely that politics will seep into classrooms all across the country in the next few months, and it is good to begin thinking about how we will best respond to this with positive educational strategies and experiences. Onward.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Today's Focus: January 23, 2020

I am in the midst of multiple curriculum initiatives which means it is once again time to rethink the classroom set-up and time to teach all of these wonderful learning experiences and units of study.

As I move from big think to today's teaching, it's important to focus in on what's important today.

We'll review area models related to division today, then students will have good time to practice the many division concepts and processes we've learned about in the past few weeks.

Language Study
Students and teachers from the Middle School will visit fifth grade to introduce the many language study options available in sixth grade to help fifth graders make a good choice.

We'll continue to read and discuss the wonderful story, Bud, not Buddy.

Prep and Professional Learning
There's some housekeeping that has to be done as well as attendance at an afterschool curriculum-related meeting. I also have to prep for a virtual professional meeting early next week and review a number of student assignments.

It's another busy and positive day ahead.

When parents don't do their job

A trigger for me as an educator is when I perceive that parents are not doing their job. That's when I have to stop and remind myself of the tremendous challenge that good parenting is, as well as the fact that no parent can do it all and I never know the whole situation.

I can dig back into my past and recognize why this is a trigger for me and why I am so keenly aware of the fact that good parenting sets the stage for tremendous student success and well being. But, to blame parents or get angry at them does no one any good. The only positive path in this endeavor is to team with parents with the knowledge that none of us have the monopoly with regard to what it takes to care well for children--we all have some capacity in this regard and when we work together, our collective capacity grows and children are well supported.

How can we work best with the many families we serve?

Good communication beginning with Curriculum Nights and family-student meetings at the start of the year set the stage for positive teamwork. Similarly regular communication via newsletters, needed phone calls and emails, and family-student events also support optimal teamwork.

Team Mindset
The mindset that educating a child well takes teamwork invites educators and families to work together with the best interests of the child at the center of that work.

Shared Goals
Setting shared goals and working towards those goals helps the family-teacher-student team stay focused on similar goals and efforts.

Strengths Based Efforts
Focusing on a child's strengths as a way to meet a child's challenges is a positive direction to take when working together around more challenging issues that may occur.

Holistic Approach
Knowing a whole child helps the teacher-family team work together with success and understanding. A too narrow approach or mindset can be problematic.

The truth of the matter is that we are all both compromised and capable in every situation--none of us can do it all, but if we work together with positivity, support for one another, and our best abilities, we will make good progress when it comes to supporting and teaching children well. Teaching is a team sport that relies on healthy, positive family-school connections. Onward.


School life is filled with connection making as well as challenges. This year's challenges are specific and child-centered. There are children in my midst that need more or different to be able to achieve with greater satisfaction, happiness, and success.

These very personal and specific challenges can be frustrating as, like most teachers, I want to be there for every child. I want to meet every child where they are and do my best by them. Yet, when facing large groups of children at once, it's often difficult to zero in on every child's needs. Some make it easy--they're eager, ready to learn, and flexible enough to go with the flow, and others are more challenging--they resist the status quo for all kinds of reasons. At times, that can be frustrating because you feel guilty, overwhelmed, under-supported, confused, and unskilled with regard to a child's presentation, needs, and challenges.

What is a teacher to do at times like this?

Get Underneath the Situation
If you feel frustrated by a child's behavior or mindset, you have to get underneath that issue. There are specific issues that trigger us for all kinds of reasons. As a parent, my greatest trigger was when my children had great needs that I didn't plan for, recognize, or know how to support. When issues like that occurred, I felt guilty and became upset. I was frustrated for myself for letting a situation get to that point, and guilty that I let it happen. Of course, no parent can foresee every challenge or know how to react to every childhood behavior. Parents are human--we have limitations. In time, I became better at facing my children's issues with greater patience, good process, and calm.

In the classroom, every teacher has their trigger points--classroom behaviors and mindsets that are more challenging for them, and every teacher has their strengths--challenging behaviors and mindsets that they are well-versed at and ready to handle with strength. That's why we need one another when it comes to the kinds of complex problems and challenges students present. Over my career it has been group think that has helped us to get underneath children's challenges to discover troubling allergies, unexpected environmental problems, and obscure learning challenges.

So as I think of this year's challenging situations, I have to remember that, in cases like these, it takes a team approach--the kind of approach that brings counselors, nurses, therapists, family members, and teachers together to look deeply at the issue and figure out how to help a child best. We have to take this work seriously and make the time needed to help children rather than find fault with them. This is critical with regard to a child's self esteem, relationships, and success. No matter how long you've taught, this is a challenge we must embrace.

Make a plan
Once the team comes up with ways to help a child, you need to make a plan so that you are helping the child daily with positive teaching/learning efforts. Even if you can't mitigate all aspects of a problem, you can be put positive words and actions in place. To help a child who faces challenges is a one-step-ahead-of-the-other process. Our most challenging students are our greatest teachers, they challenge the best of us and teach us how to educate better. What is good for them is likely good for all of our students.

Be transparent
Don't be afraid to say to a child, "I'm trying to help you with my best ability, but sometimes, I don't know exactly what to do when you ____________________. How might I help you better at times like that." Just letting students know that you are trying is a positive step forward.

Chart your progress
Keep an informal journal of your efforts. Chart your successes as well as challenges along the way. Sometimes you may be harder on yourself than you have to be. For example if a child's behavior gets to you once every two months--that's not great, but not horrible as long as you act with a professional attitude and positive attention towards the child, but if a child's challenges are getting to you daily and you are reacting in ways that are unprofessional or negative, then that's a problem. Charting your efforts and reactions can help you to analyze the situation accurately and make the program better for a child.

Teaching well is a limitless job, one that is always presenting new challenges. It's good to continually prioritize amongst the many possibilities that exist choosing those areas where you can advance your skills and abilities to better your service to students and families in ways that matter. Onward.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Get smarter: 2020 Reading List

Teach Well: Stay the Course

There's temptation to veer off track since there are many, many new initiatives and ideas floating all around me at home and at school. The ideas and initiatives are good, but not for me at this time. For me, it's time to stay the course with positive math, science, reading teaching and continued community building at home and at school--that's what takes precedence!

Sometimes new initiatives and efforts are exactly what you should do and at other times, it's not the right time to take another path for all kinds of reasons. Onward.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Teacher led lessons are sometimes best

Our team surveys students about how they like to learn, and when we do that, it always surprises me that a fair number of students prefer teacher led lessons. This probably surprises me because as a student I preferred more active, hands-on exploration than the sit-and-git lessons that were often the mainstay in school.

Tomorrow, I'll lead a teacher-led lesson as we revisit traditional division and problem solving. Students and I will begin with the RICE acronym that leads students with Reading problems carefully, Identifying key information, Calculating and checking their work, and Expressing and Explaining their conclusion/answer.

Then we'll tackle one problem after another together. After that, they'll have time to complete the problem packet and begin working on their homework--a traditional division review.

Recent assessments confirm that students are committed to their learning and mostly making terrific gains. Our efforts as teachers to promote a strong collegial-student-family team is proving to be successful and that makes returning to school after the long weekend a welcome event. Onward.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The just right push

Teaching, like parenting, is a dance. You want to inspire your students forward, but you want that just-right inspiration, the just-right push ahead.

You can think of it as similar to teaching a child to ride a bike. The just right push on a grassy plane sends your child forward toward pedaling on their own. A too hard push on a too hard pavement spells disaster.

This push and pull dance is one that requires observation, reflection, and the give-and-take that makes the dance a graceful connection. No doubt, we will step on each others toes, misstep, and be awkward at times as we navigate this terrain.

Today, I've decided that we'll step back a bit in the classroom. I'll make some time to check in on individual students, catch up on overdue work and efforts, provide more choice than usual, and make time for a class meeting. In a sense, it will be like a low key Sunday at home--it will be time to check in with each other, catch up, and re-engage the community with respect to our commitment to each other's happiness and success. This is a necessary kind of day now and then in classroom life.

Bettering teaching and learning

If you read my blog, you know that I love the process of betterment. I enjoy analyzing situations, noticing what is working and what is not working, then reaching out to learn and better what we can do. There is great satisfaction in this growth process, a process that has potential to empower students in meaningful ways for today and their future.

So with this in mind, where are the challenges now.

Responding to assessment results
Recent assessments have pointed to the need to finesse some of the math groups and processes to improve learning progress for a few students. These students will profit from more small group instruction that is engaging, targeted on specific skills, and supportive. Many who have received similar support in the past few months have demonstrated good growth. The challenge is finding the time and staffing to support this, but we're on our way with regard to meeting that challenge.

Teamwork and Project Based Learning
Students are in the midst of a challenging teamwork project related to environmental care and protection. This is a challenging project that takes time. The challenge here is time, focus, and teamwork. It's easy to shy away from big projects like this, but I know that once we give the project the time it needs, students will begin to get more invested and confident. As I write, I realize that we have to give this work some deep and meaningful time.

Class community
Making the time to nurture the class community is also very important. The stronger the class community, the more children are able to care for one another and help one another learn. A strong class community takes good time with targeted meetings, time for fun, and awareness of who is needing more or different in this regard.

Positive routines
Positive routines sets the stage for deeper and better learning. In general, there are good routines ijn place, routines that will profit from some review in the days ahead during a class meeting.

All in all the year is going well, and now it is a time for finesse to better what we can do with and for one another. Onward.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Teach Well: What does the data say?

As I studied a number of data reports, it was clear that there was a pocket of students who need a bit different instruction. The students all had some learning traits in common and it was clear that it's worth conducting some small group instruction to meet their needs will be helpful. I identified two good pockets of time to conduct these groups. I also identified that a more structured, somewhat light, and engaging approach may be the best approach for these groups. I'm looking forward to gaining the progress possibly by trying this revised approach.

Assessment Time

Students will take a few assessments this week. The results will help educators decide what and how to teach in the days ahead. Specifically we'll be able to see who is catching on with the current program priorities and efforts and who needs more or different to make better progress.

While we assess student effort, engagement, and learning daily in all kinds of ways, it is helpful to have a few assessments that give us a broader view of the whole class.

I'll introduce students to the best strategy to do well on this test, and then let them get started. I'll share the results of these online tests with students once they complete the tests too. These tests will also inform the completion of student progress reports. Onward.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

You are the master of your destiny

I often start lessons with a big statement or quote. Today I told students that they are the masters of their destiny and if they determine the destinations that they want to reach, then they can create a list of the positive actions to lead them in that direction.

Then I noted the ways that they can be successful in math including the following:
  • pay attention
  • choose good work partners
  • ask questions
  • practice
I added that to do well academically is to have more choices and to have more choices is to have a greater chance of happiness. I further explained that if you're relegated to only one place to live, one kind of job, or one kind of lifestyle, you may not have the chance to live where you really want to live, do what you really want to do, or have the kind of life you want. 

Then I passed out the quiz. Did a warm-up problem with them. Mentioned that this quiz was meant to show me who understands the concept and who still needs more teaching. It was a helpful lesson overall since it gave me the information I need to move the program forward with success for all and it gave students the knowledge that they are the ones who are truly in charge of their lives and their learning, and the teachers are there to help in every way that we can.

Now the challenge is to help in every way that I can which includes the following steps:
  • reviewing student work carefully
  • carving out the time and support to help every child succeed
  • making sure we meet the expected standards in engaging, child-friendly, successful ways
  • prioritizing our time and teaching efforts well
  • staying ahead of ourselves a bit by having lessons planned and ready to go.
Specifically that means these actions:

Climate Change Projects
Revisiting what we've done to date and getting ready for the next lesson on Friday.

Math Assessments
Giving the two current math assessments, analyzing the results, and using that analysis to better the teaching/learning program for the next leg of the math year.

Carving out good time for all to read wonderful books.

Special Events
Completing the leg work for a number of special events and initiatives

Good Balance to Maximize Energy


Monday, January 13, 2020

Not the best day--why?

It was a dark day most of the day. The morning went as planned, but when students returned to class after special, it was clear that they were not ready to buckle down to the learning at hand. I surveyed the group and asked them to put away their computers and binders. I knew that clearing a space for learning would help. I also asked them to collect their division packets. I made a few seat changes to support better learning and then started the lesson w/speed and strength. I know that not every child likes a quick pace, but given the students' mood, I felt that a speedier pace would pull more along for this initial introduction to traditional long division.

For the most part, students followed along. A few were disconcerted with the hurried pace, and one or two had called it a day and were not attending as I would hope for. I tried to get them back, but I couldn't engage them and get the rest of the crew to follow along too so I decided to let them be knowing that I had time put aside the next day to review the material with small groups.

By the end of the lesson, a few were upset given the fast pace and redirection. Ugh! That's not what I intended. I wished they could have just let it roll knowing I would circle back to them tomorrow for more personalized instruction, but that wasn't the case today.

What would make it better?

First, I clearly need to make a few seat changes. Some students really profit from sitting up front and sitting with peers who can help them out.

Also, I need to prep some for the lesson earlier by making the time to personally let them know the expectations and asking how I might help.

And, I can ask teaching assistants to work with small groups outside of the room. That will give some personal attention and also lessen the number of students for the whole group lesson.

Finally when a child doesn't respond to redirection, sometimes it's best to simply let it be and catch up with that child later.

Every lesson won't be the best and every day won't be optimal either. That's the challenge of the job, but if we can learn from our less than optimal days, we will have more good days than challenging days to come. Onward.

Meeting ALL Needs?

 One challenge of teaching large groups of children day in and day out is that you cannot meet all needs all the time. Sometimes, some have to patient while you prioritize other children's needs. This becomes an issue when a child is unwilling to wait their turn, go with the program, or try their best.

Most teachers want to help everyone. Most teachers design lessons to help all or at least as many as possible, and most teacher experience times when it is simply impossible to meet all the needs in the classroom due to a large number of possible reasons.

That happened to me today. There were many needs and only one of me. I could not be there for everyone so I had to choose some over others which dismayed those who wanted more or different.

The same thing happens to parents--we try to parent all our children well, but sometimes one may take priority over another. Onward.

Why are Mondays difficult?

Like many, I LOVE the weekends. I LOVE having time to do what I want and relax. Monday spells back to the busyness that school is--back to a tight schedule and meeting lots of needs. Yet, years ago when I didn't work full time, the weekends weren't as special. In some ways, the hard work of the work week makes the weekends so much more special.

That said, Mondays are a reality, and it only takes a few minutes and a few kind words and warm smiles from the children to get me back into the weekly routine of teaching and caring for fifth graders as well as working with colleagues.

What will this week bring?

First, I will get to see some of my students present to the whole school. They are so proud of this role and have practiced diligently. I will be very proud of them.

After that we'll have a short recess, then begin learning with lots of math study, reading, a short teacher's meeting, and more math. All good learning that matters.

Tonight I'll review students' homework and make notes so I can get everyone back completing their home study practice in the new year--that practice really helps students gain math skill, concept, and knowledge.

A good day ahead.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Priorities: Second week in January 2020

We're back in full swing at school and that means we're busy, busy, busy--so what's prioritized?

Math Homework Review
When students complete their math homework, they do better. I'll spend some time on Monday night reviewing students completed homework to see who is on track and who needs more support in this area. During our Tuesday Response to Intervention sessions, we can help those who need more support.

Math Lessons
We're focused on division in multiple ways and will continue that work.

Math Response to Intervention
We took a close look at how all students are doing and made a few targets with regard to our collective teaching. We'll focus in on those targets with regard to specific students and kinds of instruction this week.

We'll read students winter stories this week and students will vote on their favorite.

Progress Reports
We'll begin work on progress reports that will be handed out in February.

Whenever we have any extra time we'll focus on quiet reading of great books--we're encouraging lots and lots of good reading whenever and however we can.

Long Term Planning
The team will meet to review a number of long term planning items, then do the prep that goes along with that.

Sensitivity and Care for Every Student
Beginning with the morning greeting, we'll do all that we can to sensitively and carefully attend to each student's needs and interests in ways that matter.

We have a good week ahead.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Teach Well: Visit the Boston Museum of Science

We had a wonderful trip to the Boston Museum of Science yesterday. The Museum is better than ever. There were several factors that made the trip a success:

  • Lead time: we planned the trip early in the year
  • Chaperones: we had a good amount of chaperones
  • Agenda: we studied the Museum schedule for that day and created an agenda that met our teaching/learning goals and interests
  • Student preparation: we reviewed the schedule with students as well as other behavioral expectations.
What did we do? From 9:30-1:15, we did the following:
  • Visit exhibits: my group went to the hands-on discovery lab and engaged in all kinds of chemistry-related activities
  • The Animal Show: students loved this great presentation all about snakes
  • STEAM Lab: Students used the design process to create and race small sleds--they loved it!
  • Science Playground: Students learned about physical science through play
  • Force Presentation: We were entertained with a terrific presentation all about force
  • Lightning Show: Another great show all about lightning and electricity
  • More exploration of many, many exhibits: Students explored river habitats, a sheep's heart, New England habitats, and much, much more.
We also had students carry their backpacks with their lunches and snacks so they could stop and eat when they were hungry rather than spend a lot of time on that since our time was short.

This was a fabulous trip--one I recommend for all school groups in the New England region and beyond if possible. 

Friday, January 10, 2020


Are you a contributor in your school? What do you do to increase the good work possible?

In most schools, most educators are wonderful contributors. There's a limitless list of what we can do to make schools better, and while no one can do it all, everyone can do somethings to increase a school's capacity and good work.

As one who loves to dream and think about this potential, I have to be careful not to overcommit and then not be able to live up to the contributions I hope to focus on.

So, now and then, I have to purposely focus on what I have chosen to do.

Thanks to the inspiration of a brilliant student, our team is exploring ways to add animation skill and understanding to our fifth grade curriculum. This is a great creative composition addition that fits the interests, age, and needs of our fifth grade students.

Climate Change Projects
While challenging, our commitment to environmental education is an important part of our fifth grade program. This effort requires good work, time, and collaboration. We've made this commitment, and now it's essential that we give it the good time it deserves as we know these efforts will positively impact our students' lives and learning today and into the future.

Math Program
We have a dedicated team committed to this program. We have a good foundation and now it's all about building the program in ways that translates to positive and engaging success for every student. The work involved in this includes good daily teaching, focused meetings, professional learning, and making sure we give the program the time it needs with regard to success.

Union Efforts
To work collaboratively with our dedicated and diverse local union group to forward the best possible support for educators is the aim here. That requires a good level of respect, listening, reading, reflection, and collaboration.

Student Progress Reports, Portfolios, and Family-Student Conferences
Soon our team will focus on these efforts again--critical efforts with regard to creating opportunities for student success.

Science Teaching
We have everything we need to teach a top notch standards-based science program. The greatest challenge here is making the time to do this well. This is an issue I'll be thinking a lot about as I plan the next few months of teaching and learning.

We have an awesome grade-level team of multiple education professionals. I want to do everything I can to contribute to this team with positivity and support. This is a key feature of our ability to forward a positive teaching/learning program for students, and a feature that I am so grateful for.

This is a full and good list of contributions to focus on. Of course, there are many, many more possible paths, but for now this is where I have my sights set. Let me know if I've missed a critical point or focus.

A Good Contract Matters

Yesterday I had the chance to discuss the value of a good teacher's contract. Educators discussed a number of questions and perspectives related to this, and as I think about the overall conversation, the bottom line is that a good contract creates a strong framework for any school system.

A good contract ensures that educators make fair salaries and have optimal work conditions. Why does this matter? First of all, when teachers don't make enough money, they can't afford good health care, homes, transportation, nutritious food, clothing, and more--a fair salary means that educators make enough money to live well, and enough so that they have what they need to arrive at work each day healthy and prepared to do the best possible job. Without fair salaries, educators have to work second and third jobs. They have to struggle to afford basic needs, and they may be unhappy due to no down time or recreation opportunities.

How do you determine a fair salary? First, what does it cost to have a good standard of living in the community where you work? How much does a house, car, clothing, food, child care, health care including dental, and recreation cost? Then, what do educators make in the best systems? If your system provides a comparable salary, then your system will attract the best qualified educators. To work in a system with top notch educators often means you'll work in a system where educators are dedicated to their craft and the system's overall success.

A good contract also ensures optimal work conditions. If teachers are working in unsafe or outdated environments, it's probable that their efforts may not be as good. If you don't have a safe, healthy environment, it will be difficult to do good work. Also, if you don't have the time to do your job well including the preparation needed to teach and lead best possible learning experiences, you won't be able to teach well. I have a friend in a system other than mine who has only twenty minutes to eat lunch a day. By the time she walks her students to the lunch room and uses the restroom, that time is greatly reduced leaving her without the time needed to eat a nutritious lunch. That same friend also has excessive duties and little to no teaching assistant help--that means she's working with a large group of needy students all day without adequate time to eat lunch, many duties outside of her teaching job, and little support. Her work conditions are subpar, and if you look at the data from that district, it's not surprising that the system is not succeeding as the educators simply don't have the work conditions needed to teach students well. Poor working conditions not only take time and capacity from educators, but those poor work conditions also prohibit the good teaching and learning possible for students too.

A good contract is a contract that supports optimal salaries and work conditions, and good contracts also represent what's needed in the context where a school system exists. For example, if you work in a system where educators cannot afford to live, you have to acknowledge the transportation time and vehicles needed to get to school each day--teachers that have to travel an hour or more to get to school due to the cost of housing or lack of good public transportation need work conditions that take that into consideration. Also if you work in a system where the majority of students come from traumatic situations due to socio-economic reasons, then you have to factor in the kinds of working conditions that help educators to best teach those students. Student trauma takes a toll on teachers, and that has to be considered. You also have to consider the experience and families of educators too with regard to needed professional learning, childcare, and education benefits.

The challenge of a good contract is creating contracts that work for all--to do this best, all educators have to get involved in the process. No one can take the contract or the process of negotiating a good contract for granted. The optimal framework for teaching, learning, and living well a contract creates is important, but it won't happen without educator commitment, awareness, and advocacy--teachers have to make time to work well together to make sure that the teaching/learning environment provides optimal work conditions and salaries so we can all do our jobs well and live well too.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

I can do my job better than ever thanks to so many awesome supports

It's true, I can do my job better than ever thanks to the efforts of so many which have resulted in the following:
  • More respect
  • Greater organization
  • Attention to social-emotional learning in ways that matter
  • Greater teacher autonomy
  • More support from the greater teaching/learning environment
  • A terrific, collaborative team approach to teaching students at the grade-level
This is all good and has made my job a lot better. In fact, these are my very best years of teaching. I am so grateful. 

And with that betterment, comes lots of positive work and potential. My schedule is full, but full with positive endeavor. This too is good.

What are we doing?

Project Based Learning: Climate Change Fair
This is a challenging, but positive project that involves all students at the grade level in meaningful student-driven, creative, and collaborative study.

Hands-On Science Exploration and Creativity
There's lots and lots of science to teach. The greatest challenge is finding good time for this learning.

Math Program
Students overall are dedicated to doing well. The teaching team is highly invested and supportive of all math teaching. The challenge, like science, is making enough time for the study possible and finessing our efforts.

Most students are regularly engaged with reading great books. There's a few more that we need to focus in on with greater depth and strength. We're working on that. Students get a terrific dose of daily reading study and instruction--they're making good progress. 

Students are writing lots of varied genre with enthusiasm. This is all good.

Special Events
Almost every week we have a special event which makes the learning program more interesting. This not only teaches students well but builds an enthusiastic and dedicated learning community too. 

The greatest challenge is to stick with the learning schedule created with sensitivity, care, and good work. This requires a positive self-care routine and optimal collaboration. It's been a long road to get to this wonderful destination. No complaints here. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Every class has a different personality

Yesterday was the first day back after the holiday break. We discussed potential, capacity, good books, reading, past science teaching/learning, and the upcoming climate change fair. There was good time for recess too.

As I reacquainted myself with the class, I was reminded of the fact that every class has their own personality and what works one year may not work the next. You can't expect the same every year, but instead you have to teach the children in front of you by maximizing their strengths and mitigating the challenges they bring to the teaching/learning environment.

This year's class loves to play--they could have recess all day without a problem. Many love to draw and create too. They enjoy active learning more than discussion, and they seem to like it in smaller doses than long, extended learning periods. Tests work well for this group as a test is a way to settle them down and help them attend to material with focus and with regard to teamwork, some are great at it and others find it challenging.

The classroom is small for this team of active learners so spreading students out to available nooks and crannies in the school helps.

Today I'll be thinking of what helps this group learn as well as possible while we engage in a math review, climate change project work, and time for reading. It's both a challenge and a joy to teach a new and different group of children every year. The job is never dull. Onward.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Humble Learning

There is always more to learn--it's a limitless proposition.

Sometimes we're ready and eager to learn, and other times we're less open and ready to learn.

No matter out mindset, we will always learn better if we are humble in the face of new learning.

That humility finds you ready to cull new learning even when topics are within your levels of deep knowledge or expertise. To be a humble learner is the opposite of knowing it all. Instead humble learning takes the perspective that there is always more to learn and even the smallest nugget of new information is of value as we build our skill, concept, and knowledge foundation.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Welcome to the New Year: School Year 2020

My team keeps a running calendar of events and a to-do list. We reference that calendar and list all the time as we plan together to serve the 69 fifth graders we teach this year. I reviewed the list today to see what had to be done and what had to be planned for. After the review, I can tell you that the agenda is full--there's little to no room for new events, and I've already started the 2020-2021 summer planning list with a few ideas I want to explore, ideas that will not fit into this year's agenda.

The more you teach, the more the year becomes shorter. After all, the year is only 180 school days long, and that's not a lot. Yet when you're teaching, some of those days seem like they are a month long, especially days when the challenges outweigh the needed support. Fortunately where I teach, that's not the case too often.

What makes this review and the return to school inviting is that, first of all, we got a couple extra days of vacation this holiday break which essentially gives us the time we need to prep for the return to school. One challenging aspect of classroom teaching is that most of the work you do to prepare for teaching happens on your own time since most of the time you're in school, you're on-task with students. So while we teach students for 180 days, most of us work about another 180 eight-hour days prepping and planning. Teaching is definitely a full-year job.

Another aspect of this review that makes the new year of school exciting is that we have a good number of special professional and educational events planned with and for the students including expert visitors, field studies, a climate fair, a fifth grade play and more. We generally move from one interdisciplinary and engaging event to another with some good pragmatic teaching in between. We've choreographed a good year for the students, and because of that and very supportive families, absenteeism is rarely an issue. Yet, as all teachers know, what we can do is limitless--we've never hit the ceiling when it comes to moving our craft forward and teaching well.

So, with the schedule set, it's time to prepare my home and other items for the 2020 start to school next Monday. I wish all teachers out there a successful 2020 school year. I encourage you to advocate with colleagues and administrators for what you need to do the job well. I still hear too many stories of oppression in schools, the kind of oppression that stalls the good work possible for children. We all know that schools hold tremendous potential for betterment, but teachers aren't superhuman--we need the supports that help us meet that potential so we can do even better.