Thursday, February 27, 2020

Teaching Priorities for the Months Ahead

I have some travel time to think this weekend so this is a good time to think about the teaching days, weeks, and months ahead. What are the priorities?

Climate Change Fair
Climate change teams and directors have been busy preparing for our March 9th Climate Fair. At the fair each team will present an essential question and action related to mitigating climate change and protecting our local SUASCO watershed ecosystem. Students have been busy researching, creating action plans, working on those actions, and explaining their efforts via posters, presentations, and video. Then, at the fair, they'll share their learning and efforts with family members and students at the school.

We have a lot of fraction study ahead. This is a great unit to teach and the priority is making good time for this study.

Geometry and Measurement
We'll spend some time on geometry and measurement too.

Student Led Spring Conferences
We'll update portfolios and help student prepare to lead their spring conferences that will take place during the second half of March.

Symphony Math, Khan Academy, IXL
These are our three main math practice sites, and we'll encourage students to use these sites to solidify mastery of fifth grade standards.

Read Aloud
I am making more time for this in the weeks ahead as a way to build student knowledge related to multiple standards-related content areas and areas of student interest.

Theater Visit
I'll reach out to our school librarian who is also a theater expert to help us prepare students for our wonderful upcoming trip to the theater.

Global Changemakers Project
The writing teacher on our team will take the lead for this project, but once MCAS tests arrive, we'll all shift our homeroom time to this wonderful effort.

Fifth Grade Play
In short time, students will begin working a lot on their fifth grade play which is a wonderful learning event for all.

Middle School Transition
There's lots of paperwork to complete for the Middle School transition. I want to review those dates and make plans about when and how I'll complete that work.

Fifth graders take a lot of tests. Right now, all those test dates are set on the calendar. The challenge is to teach all the information included on the tests in the weeks ahead--we can do that.

Once the climate fair is complete, we'll move into leading many discrete science lessons including lessons about plants, composting, properties of matter, and Earth and Space science.

Expert Visitors
We have a science presentation about sound and another science presentation related to matter planned. We also have a living history presentation of Ben Franklin planned.

Field Studies
Students will attend the theater, spend a day in a beautiful natural space, and take a historic walking tour of Boston.

Field Day
All students enjoy this day of athleticism and fun.

Global Cardboard Challenge
During the final days of school, we'll recycle all the leftover materials in the classroom to support this creative STEAM project, a project when students create all kids of games and other creations out of cardboard, and then have a Global Cardboard Arcade on the playground during lunch recesses. This is a lot of fun for the whole school.

Celebratory Events
Parents are planning a fifth grade bash, pool party, beach party, and slide show to celebrate the end of fifth grade. Teachers will lead a yearbook signing event in the courtyard and a fifth grade fun day.

Professional Learning
There are a number of professional learning efforts to come including the final efforts related to our DESE Data Pilot. This includes surveying students and analyzing the results. I will also attend a Safe Schools workshop presented by the state department of education.

There's lots to come, and these are the priorities I will be focusing on.

What brings out the best in you?

What brings out the best in you?

This is a question I have been thinking a lot about this year as I coach my young students ahead. This year, probably more than ever, recess brings out the best in some of my students because they simply love to run and play--they can't get enough if. That brings out the best in them. Creative activities also brings out the best in many of my students--they love to build, draw, and create and they are very good at it. For others, they clearly love to read--when it is time to choose a book of choice and get comfy and read, they are ready to go and unstoppable the whole time. There are a few too who truly enjoy discussing social issues, world events, and problems--I've never had more open circles than this year due to this desire and interest.

While we have to learn to work in conditions that are not our favorite situations, it's good to know what really brings us the best in us and sway in that direction whenever we can as who doesn't want to be their best.

As I think of this, I recognize that the pure density of school life is sometimes challenging--there are so many people in a small space with lots and lots of needs as well as potential. That busy, busy atmosphere is sometimes a challenge since there is little time to quietly create, organize, and focus in on individual students and their needs and interests. Yet, at times, the vibrancy that lots of dedicated and joyful children is a joy. The way they come together to boost and inspire each other while they learn together is awesome. I love when that synergy happens. For me, in general, I like quieter, more focused settings rather than too densely populated and busy settings. Quiet places for the most part bring out the best in me.

Creativity and the arts also bring out the best in me. I really enjoy visiting an art museum, watching a good movie, engaging in creative tasks of any kind, listening to music, and observing any kind of creativity in action. I enjoy coaching students' creativity, problem solving, and project work too.

Nature brings out the best in me too. I enjoy the beauty and wonder of nature. My eyes delight when I take a ride or walk in nature, climb a mountain, bike at the beach, visit an arboretum or explore a garden. One aspect of the school where I teach that I truly enjoy is the big, beautiful playground surrounded by forest.

Adventure and exploration also brings out the best in me. I love to research, investigate, and discover in multiple ways. I suppose I became a teacher because I like to learn so much. For example, students and I will explore volume in a number of ways today. I'll truly enjoy studying this topic with students as we look at this measurement concept in a number of ways.

In situations great and small, it is good to think about what brings out the best in you. That will be helpful as you navigate life's many decisions in the days ahead.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Learning about colleague's good work

Today I had the opportunity to hear a number of colleagues discuss their dedicated, talented, and student-centered teaching. I loved hearing about and observing via videos about their research, decision making, and impact on children. This was inspiring.

School life can be quite the roller coaster. Monday and Tuesday were trying days for many reasons--I had to sort out some confusion about school priorities and effort. I was obsessed by the need to find an answer. Then today, I tried a new approach that worked. What a relief! I actually was able to teach at the level and with the student-centered approach I strive to teach with. This was good.

I'm sure there will be trying days ahead, but I hope this new approach, one that includes greater structure, simplicity, and more tailored, timely transitions will signal some good teaching days for the days to come. Overall it has been a good year, but clearly the students were demonstrating the need for some change in the past few days and hopefully this is the change they need to get back on track and learn in ways that meet the potential that exists. Onward.

Take Back the Classroom Community

At times, your work in the classroom can be hijacked by all kinds of initiatives, efforts, attitudes, and ideas. Sometimes that hijacking actually turns out to be positive as it inspires a new direction or an improved practice, but sometimes that hijacking leads to a troubling imbalance in the classroom. When that happens, you have to take the classroom back by not allowing the hijacking to continue.

How can you do this?

Make some time to solidify the routines. Focus on the priorities--the most important learning objectives. Put the children at the center of all that is done.

What does this look like in real time?

First, more time to introduce and coach transitions with clear expectations. When the expectations are not clear, there's room for error.

Then, slowing down the teaching/learning program in order to make time to focus in on the important teaching and coaching needed to build a strong, productive community.

And, as much as possible, sticking to the schedule--following a positive daily routine of teaching and learning.

Time to return to promoting the best possible program.

The Long View: Teaching 2020

Every so often, it is clear that the class has landed at a new place, a place that requires a relook at what we do and how we do it.

While the class in general is academically strong, at this point in the teaching/learning road, there is greater need for a focus on manners, following the routines, and helping one another. A bit of off-task, unkind behavior seeped into the classroom in the last few days. It began with some unkind, off-task teasing and grew. As you can imagine, this is discouraging. Yet, rather than be discouraged, I have to redirect this kind of behavior to more positive, proactive behavior. What will I do?

First, It is essential that we have a good routine with clear expectations about what children are expected to do and how they are expected to act each day. Then we need to have a few consequences for those who simply will not do their work or act politely--the class is too big and has too much good potential to let a few interrupt the good learning and positive community.

And, of course, there is the need to coach each child personally and with as much positivity as possible. We have a great course of study planned for the days of head and to get the most from that study with includes multiple varied events, we need to revisit the way we work together and the focus of our efforts. Onward.

Today's Teaching: February 26, 2020

Today is a homeroom day. Students will mostly focus on their climate change projects, however the day will begin with some math practice. Then we'll watch an inspirational video about student climate activism. After that, students will get busy with their projects. I'll coach each group. It is a short day, so these will be the main activities of the day.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Try Again

Some problems are difficult to understand. You know there's a problem, but you simply can't put your finger on exactly why the problem exists. These problems can be gnawing. What's a teacher to do?

1. Focus on the good, tried-and-true efforts--teaching you know works.
2. Keep it simple--when problems like this arise, it is not a time for innovation or new ideas.
3. Keep the basics center stage.

All kinds of problems can arise in a school setting. It is good to drill back to the basics when problems upset the good flow of classroom life. Then once the problem becomes clear and is hopefully remedied, you can pick up where you left off before the problems began. Onward.

When the program is not just right

This year the teaching/learning program has worked in many ways, but there are a few elements of the program where we keep trying out new ideas and have yet to find the perfect fit. Why has this happened?

The challenging program elements are not typical program issues--they are issues that are unique in many respects. These issues also do not belong to any one person, but instead connect to a variety of people which makes finding solutions more complicated. And to add to the complexity, the issue is always in a state of change--this is not a static situation, but one that is always changing.

The good news is that we have tried many, many different strategies, strategies based on study and research. It is also positive that we are actually making good progress with the goals we hope to achieve with these issues. The bad news is that we're still not satisfied with our efforts. There's more we can do.

How can we tease out the issues to figure out what the next steps are?

First, we have to meet to discuss the issue elements and we have to make change right away in areas that we can easily change.

Next, we have to keep our sights set on the goals--what is it that we hope to achieve?

In the issues that I am focused on, success includes the following:
  • Working with the group plan
  • If the group plan does not work, expressing why that plan doesn't work with care and respect and then working with educators to create a new plan or work within the plan successfully
  • Greater self awareness and better decision making
  • Continued and perhaps even better progress with personal academic, social, and emotional goals.
One example of the overall issue we are working with for greater success includes this scenario: A child does not want to engage in the group plan. Clear parameters have been conveyed and lots of options available. Eventually that child with coaching engaged with the plan and felt a sense of accomplishment afterwards. This was a success! I would like to replicate what happened with this situation in other similar situations. I'm not actually sure about each person's role in this situation, but some of the success included these steps:
  • time for educators to confer about the situation
  • time for a specialist to coach the student
  • clear parameters
  • options with regard to space, time
  • everyone in the class was working on the same general goal
So as I think deeply about this general area of quest, I am realizing that yesterday's success, in part, serves as a model for potential future successes in this area of school life that we are working to better. In general, these areas of school life we want to better include a few children who resist the group plan and sometimes create disruption. We can help these students more by continuing to work with them and each other to figure out what will help them the most. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Doing the hard stuff

Today I am coaching a few students to do the "hard stuff." During vacation week I had some hard stuff to do, and while doing that, I thought of the times when I have to coach students through similar tough tasks. I always tell them to think about why it is important that they do those tasks, and then to positively coach themselves forward with the task.

This morning, I'll remind students of this lesson as I ask them to complete a few difficult tasks. I'll tell them my story of self-coaching myself through some tedious tasks last week, and how, in the end, I was so happy that I persevered since the outcome was what I hoped for--a positive result for me and others.

Doing the hard stuff is no one's first choice, but it is a necessary element of life's success. Onward.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Overcoming inborn prejudice and bigotry requires intention

During this vacation week, I have read and watched many stories that include tremendous prejudice and bigotry. Prejudice and bigotry have caused horrible hardship throughout history--as the saying goes, people are quick to judge, and that judgement causes so much unnecessary hardship, pain, and lost potential.

I watched the films Harriett and Malcolm X. It was unbelievable to see how the inequity, oppression, and violence of hate and prejudice influenced these individuals' lives from their earliest days. I also watched Ken Burn's documentary, The West, which demonstrated the courage, adventure and the great prejudice that marked our country's westward expansion. The movie, Sweet Land, exemplified that too.

Prejudice, hate, and violence have been a mainstay of human history--prejudice has occurred within groups and amongst groups. Many, many innocents have lost their lives and faced incredible hardship due to this prejudice, hate, and violence. To hear stories of massacre, murder, oppression, and exclusion is heart breaking and painful.

As I think about this tremendous challenging and painful thread in human history, I wonder how we can move beyond the obstruction to potential, promise, and best living that prejudice, hate, and violence create. What can we do?

First, we have to recognize the prejudice that has been part of our culture and upbringing. We have to intentionally work against the long held words and actions that promote prejudice, oppression, and hate that we've heard and experienced since our earliest days. As the world evolves, people mostly notice, and work against, long held bias and bigotry. Yet, this movement is slow and too often violent.

Next, we have to speak up and out when we are faced with prejudice, hate, and violence towards ourselves and others. We can't stay silent in the face of prejudice, hate, and violence.

We also have to continually educate ourselves by learning the stories of the past and the perspectives of the diverse peoples in our world. We have to make time for this education so that we know more and can be better. Schedule reading that book that will teach you more, watch good movies about this, follow people on social media from diverse cultures, and expand your boundaries so that you experience the wonder and brilliance of cultures, religions, and lifestyles different than your own.

And, we have to listen. For some of us who have been apart of dominant cultures, we often talk more than we listen. We have to make sure we make time to listen.

We also have to share the power. Prejudice often takes people's power away, and that's why we have to actively work to share any power we have--power that's related to wealth, privilege, geography, and opportunity.

As educators, we have amazing opportunity to work for greater respect, equity, and unity in our world. Via good education, people begin to understand the ignorance that prejudice and bias is, and via education, people can learn how to live better together. Also via education, people will be better able to choose good leaders, act against oppression, and see ways to live life that elevates all rather than just a few.

There is much we can do. Just today, Theresa Lee prompted me to think about all the amazing women that lead on social media--women who have shared countless awesome ideas and support with and for me as I will to be a better mom, educator, and citizen. Women are often overlooked or under-valued on social media, and simply by making the time to think deeply about the women I follow and learn from, I took a positive step today towards less oppression, prejudice, and lost opportunity.

In the days ahead, I'll commit to doing more in this arena. I'll think deeply with colleagues about our curriculum to make sure we are working against prejudice, hate, and violence in all that we do. I'll commit to reading White Fragility in the months ahead to better educate myself about racism in our culture. I'll grow my follows on social media with regard to diversity so I can hear more stories and ideas from multiple perspectives. I'll also think about ways that I might share my "power" as I make choices, spend money, and live my life. And, I'll work at listening more.

Overcoming prejudice and bigotry requires intention--what will you do in this arena to raise awareness and lessen the hate, oppression, prejudice, and violence that has been a destructive and dangerous mainstay of human history?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Winter/Spring 2020 Goals and Focus

Prior to vacation, I want to take a few minutes to focus on the teaching goals and efforts for winter/spring 2020.

There's still lots of math to teach and review. By sticking to the schedule as much as possible and forwarding positive math learning experiences, we'll get there. After vacation, students will learn about volume via a number of activities, study fractions, begin using IXL, and engage in a number of problem solving activities.

We'll coach students forward to the Climate Fair with a focus on project based learning, research, and presentation. Later we'll analyze data from the event in math class. After that we'll dig into the remaining science standards with lots of hands-on activities and special events.

I'll focus on my intervention group with great books and activities to meet learning goals as well as provide the rest of the class with good structure and time for lots of wonderful reading.

Class Community
These rising Middle Schoolers profit from regular meetings, problem solving, morning greeting, good structure, time for play, and positivity.

These are the overarching goals for the months ahead. Goals that provide a roadmap to a successful second half of the school year.

Today's Focus: February 14, 2020

Yesterday, students made a lot of progress on their environmental projects. Today, I'll give them a checklist to lead their efforts and continue to coach as many teams as I can as students work on the projects.

The day's agenda includes the following:
  • Symphony Math and Khan Academy practice
  • inspirational environmental video
  • review of the checklist
  • working on the environmental PBL
  • library
  • instrumental
  • Valentine's box contest
  • Valentine's Day cards
  • Lunch
  • Meeting
  • Continuation of the film, Akeelah and the Bee
A good day ahead. 

Problem solving

Some problems hang on you like a too heavy coat. For some problems, the solutions are not easy to find. What do we do when that happens?

First, it is important to understand what you can about a problem, and not make it greater. I remember years ago when I encountered a challenging problem, and then I added to it to make it an even greater problem. That was not wise. Keep problems small.

Next, sometimes problems in your midst are not problems for you to solve, but instead problems to live with. That might sound crazy, but truthfully, we don't always have what a problem takes. I can think of some issues that exist in my world that are simply not my problems to solve.

And, thinking of the worst case scenarios can help. For example you can imagine the life of the problems and where they may go if the worst case scenarios occur, then work against those worst case scenarios which will help to keep the problems at bay.

No matter who you are or what you do, you'll encounter problems that are seemingly insurmountable. That's simply the way it is.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

No School Year is Perfect; Focus on the Positives

No school year is perfect. There are always challenges.

As I think about this, I remember last year's challenge which is not a challenge at all this year. Yet, there are new challenges this year. There is never a year without challenges, and on the bright side, challenges are how we grow.

Now that we are past the half way mark of the school year, it is time to focus on the positives--the good that happens day in and day out in the classroom. Yes, we always strive for better, but we can't forget the good.

With that in mind, I'll use that strengths based mindset in the days ahead and focus on the good, good that includes the following:

  • so many children that day in and day out focus on their studies with care and attention
  • students that ask amazing questions to lead their learning
  • students who persevere even when challenges
  • students who create amazing art, stories, problem solving, and project work
  • students who get along and are kind to one another
  • colleagues who persevere day after day
  • dedicated colleagues who continually strive to do better
  • colleagues who are honest, caring, and creative with their work with children
  • an amazing curriculum program
  • adequate supplies
  • a good learning environment
  • a wonderful playground
  • multiple enriching special events
Focusing on the positive is always a promising direction to take. That's where I'm headed. 


Educators deal with their fair share of disrespect. This shows up from multiple arenas in all kinds of ways. It is never positive or enriching to be the recipient of disrespectful words or behaviors.

We are also the recipients of great respect. This year when I think of respect, one family comes to mind. The mom's emails are always very respectful and the child continuously displays amazing manners and respect. They are models of respect, and when you are treated with this kind of respect, you naturally want to do all you can for people like this.

Yet, disrespect, particularly in the elementary school, is a sign of greater struggle. In general, most students are naturally respectful. When a young child is outwardly and continuously disrespectful, it generally is a cry for help. The challenge is understanding what the child needs and having the time and place to fulfill that need.

Revisiting Project Based Learning

When I taught the same students all day, I often engaged students in project based learning (PBL). Since teaching with a team model where students move from classroom to classroom for discrete subjects, I've done less project based learning. While I believe project based learning is meaningful, engaging, and powerful, I also believe that our shared teaching model is meaningful, engaging, and powerful. So how do we include project based learning well with the shared teaching model?

That's our challenge right now as we engage students in project based learning efforts related to our upcoming Climate Change Fair. Students are mostly working with teams of 3-5 students to plan a project which educates other students in the school about ways we can mitigate climate change. This teaching demands a lot from students and teachers alike--there's lots to learn about how to work together and how to create and present a great collaborative project.

We began this work with lots and lots of foundation learning, learning that is included on our project website.  Then we started the PBL with a review of what great teamwork looks like and includes as well as reviewing an outline of expected project parameters. Then we let students begin.

The beginning for groups ranged from successful teamwork to a range of challenges related to working together, choosing the project focus, and the details related to the project work. Teachers moved from group to group providing support.

Today we'll review the efforts we've engaged in since September with the project website. We'll also review the main facts and information at the foundation of this work as well as what it means to create a Climate Fair Booth. Then we'll give students considerable time to work on their projects.

As I work with students, I recognize areas of need too, and I am thinking about how we might teach to those areas better now and into the future. Those areas include the following:

Teamwork and Collaboration
We have increased our focus on this capacity, but there remains room for growth. This is both an important and challenging area of school life and life beyond school too.

Research Skills
This is an area we can revisit as a grade-level too. Where do we teach these skills and how.

How do we teach students to question effectively? How do we teach them the importance of questioning? Do we frame our teaching with questions?

When do we teach students presentation skills? How do we give students practice with these skills?

Time is always a challenge when it comes to big projects, but we'll do our best with the time we have. While PBL is tough teaching at times, it's worth it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Difficult Teaching: Environmental Science Project Based Learning

Today's teaching will be difficult.

Students are working together on local environmental projects. Today's work is difficult because it demands that students persist with challenging research, collaboration, and project details. This is probably the most difficult day yet for this project because children have to work up and strive.

How will I encourage and coach the students forward with this challenging, but positive project.

We'll begin by watching an inspirational video about a young girl who forwarded a similar project to create positive environmental protection and change. I'll focus in on the fact that one person's positive response to problems that exist can make a life enriching difference for our environment and our lives.

I will review students' primary three jobs for the day which include completing three project organization sheets. Then I'll pass out students' project folders and let them get started. As I move around the room checking in on their projects, I'll focus on teamwork, organization, and getting the task done.

Once students have worked for a good amount of time on the projects, we'll break to discuss teamwork. I'll share a few related videos, and then we'll have a circle to discuss what is working with regards to collaboration and what is not working.

The day will include gym, lunch, and the start of our new SEL-related film, Akeelah and the Bee, too. A difficult day is always made easier when there is a good outline. Onward.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Another turn in the teaching road; 2019-2020

Students sat in a circle discussing the upcoming change to Middle School. One student remarked that he was excited, but he would miss some of his elementary school teachers. Just last week, one of those teachers predicted this child's anticipation of upcoming change--she was right.

The children are clearly aware of the upcoming change, and I am aware that they are looking and acting a lot more like middle school students than elementary school students these days. What does this mean for the teaching/learning program in the days ahead?

In general, this is the time of year when we refine our focus. We take a hard look at the goals met, and then chart the course towards the goals we have left to meet.

Math Focus
Students overall have done very well with the math goals so far. We'll continue down a similar path to meet the goals that remain in the weeks ahead.

Science Focus
We'll make a big push to complete most of our environmental science goals this week and during the first days after February break. Once we have our climate fair, we'll move into a big focus on physical science.

Reading and Writing
We have a meeting focused on this work at the end of the week. This will help us to right our course in this direction.

Special Events
We have many, many fun and meaningful special learning events planned. We have some details to work out in this regard, but in general, we are prepared for these events.

What is most important is that we continue to support these children with as much positivity, meaning, and good work possible in the days ahead. Onward.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

A New Week

Last week ended with unexpected challenges, and then, over the weekend, educators figured out a few new avenues to make some positive updates to student support and programming. With that in mind, I'm looking forward to the new week--a week when we'll finish up a number of assignments, focus in on climate change projects, and make plans for reading instruction after the vacation.

With Valentine's Day at week's end, I'll tmake friendship the theme for the week ahead. Onward.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Are you to blame?

As I consider a couple of trying issues that occurred at school yesterday, issues common to any parenting or school situation, I am thinking about where the blame lies. I know the word blame brings with it thoughts of heinous crimes and misconduct which is not the case here, so I'll use the word responsibility instead.

As I thought through the issues with depth, I recognize that like all issues the responsibility lies in many areas from my own personal responsibility to that of the team, school, school system, families, and greater community. When it comes to teaching and supporting students well, we all have responsibility and it is important to recognize where our responsibility lies.

So whenever we are dissecting issues of challenge, we need to look at all the influences that affect the situation, and then prioritize how we will take responsibility to make promising change. Onward.

TA Sensitivity

When I first started teaching it was rare to have a teaching assistant (TA) in your class. Those were the days before inclusion when children with significant educational, emotional, or physical challenges usually attended separate schools or classrooms. In fact, during those days, we had two teaching assistants for the entire school. Then when inclusion took root, we began to have teaching assistants in our classes.

I believe inclusion is almost always the right way to go--the more children learn to learn with each other and accept and support each others' challenges, the better off everyone will be. I see evidence of this daily. Yet, have I ever stepped back and truly considered how to best maximize and support the role of the teaching assistant and what that means for classroom life.

Early on when inclusion started, I was on the team of teachers that outlined supports to make inclusion work. Included in that list are supports that remain today such as yearly transition meetings and weekly planning meetings. Both of those structures are helpful with regard to successful inclusion. Yet, since that time, our grade-level has morphed to a collaborative teaching model which means that teaching assistants are working with more teachers and moving from classroom to classroom. That complicates the role a bit more.

Also, teaching assistants' schedules are tight--there is not much time for planning, communication, or professional learning in their day. In the best of worlds, I would greatly increase the number and diversity of teaching assistants in schools. I would also increase their salaries, hours, benefits, training, and professional opportunities--these people are critical to successful teaching and learning for children, teaching and learning that helps to create strong, happy, successful communities. Their role is vital.

So I am thinking about how to embrace the role of teaching assistants as a forethought rather than an afterthought. What can I do to better enable and support that role throughout the school year? I know that there are many teachers who make this a priority which is the right thing to do.

A good space in the classroom
Classrooms are generally filled with all kinds of equipment and materials, but it is important to make a space for the teaching assistant to hang their coats and secure their needed supplies and personal belongings. I generally have prioritized the classroom space for students, but I need to think more about making a positive space for teaching assistants.

Positive communication
There is little time for good communication between teaching assistants and teachers during the school day since we are mostly working with students or other colleagues every minute of the day, but it is essential to create a communication routine at the start of the year that works.

Prioritize efforts
It is limitless what we can do for students, so we have to make time to prioritize our goals. This is particularly difficult to do when a child presents a complex and wavering profile, but nevertheless, we have to figure out what the priorities are and work together toward reaching those goals as much as possible.

Room for error
No educator, no matter their specific role, is perfect--we make honest mistakes as we will to do our best by children, families, and others. We have to leave room for that error and grow from it.

Record the good times and the challenging times
By keeping simple, good records, we can more easily see the challenges we have to work on and the successes we've achieved. It's important to celebrate the successes and not only dwell on the challenges.

The TA role in schools, I believe, is here to stay. It is a vital role for positive school life, and a role that we can all work to empower more.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Today's Focus: Friday, February 7, 2020

Today's focus includes supporting students as they take a math assessment by sharing the optimal test strategy for success, clarifying questions, and encouraging their best work. Later in the day students will have time to read, create Valentine's Day boxes, and make some free choices--choices they've earned by the extraordinary efforts they've demonstrated in the past few weeks. At the end of the day, I'll meet with our teacher team to discuss relevant team issues and plan for next week's climate change project work. A good day ahead.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

A good day and the plans ahead

This week's deep assessment of what learner's need resulted in a productive learning day. That's good news. Not unlike any relationship we encounter, there are times when we have to rethink and recalibrate in order to teach well.

An unexpected afternoon event thwarted my original plans so now I'm home thinking about tomorrow and the week ahead. What's on the agenda?

Climate Change Projects
Tomorrow at our PLC we'll review the expectations for students' climate change projects. I'll create a road map to assist our review this afternoon. Then next week we'll spend the larger part of three days working on these projects.

Math Tests
Students have been preparing for the math test for quite a while. Tomorrow all students will take the test in the morning.

Valentine's Day Boxes and Free Choice
Students will have time to craft Valentine's Day boxes and make free choices--lots of exemplary work by many students led to the free choice time.

Volume Study
We'll begin next week with a volume study.

Bud, Not Buddy
My very small reading group will finish this book.

Story Contest
We'll make time to finally read the story contest stories.

Reading Data Meeting
We'll end next week with a focus on looking deeply at students' reading data and making decisions about reading instruction and free reading time/process at that meeting.

The day's strategy

I take a strategic approach towards teaching. This approach has been fostered by the countless sports teams my own sons have been apart of over time. I've watched my sons' coaches use good strategy to develop strong and collaborative winning teams.

Today as I look at the agenda, I determined the following strategy:
  • I'll ask a few talented teachers and teaching assistants to support a few learners who need that kind of help for a couple of prioritized tasks.
  • I'll focus my attention on a small number of students who have yet to complete a couple of essential assignments with regard to mastering the expected learning standards.
  • I'll ask a few students who are ahead with regard to the expected learning to "teach" and support classmates who are behind not because of learning challenges, but instead behind due to absences and focus. 
The learning goals prioritized today include the final practice session before Friday's unit math test and a social-emotional assessment that will inform our SEL and STEAM teaching efforts and our overall grade-level/school efforts.

I'll also focus in on our improved efforts to support students' optimal readiness for learning including organization, following directions, asking questions, and advocating for needed support.

In some ways, every day in school is game day--a day that includes the best possible strategy to lead every child forward towards success on this day, this year, during their school years, and beyond. 

When and why is teamwork a challenge?

At our student planning meeting the other day, we discussed the fact that teamwork is a challenge for some children. Then we wondered why?

At our grade level, we have been working towards helping all children become better collaborators and team members. We've employed specific lessons to support this quest. Yet, I am not satisfied particularly since some students are still distanced from this goal.

What can we do?

First, it is important to think about the attributes that good teamwork demands. Children have to listen to one another, compromise, choose roles, and do their part. Children that have difficulty as team members typically have a hard time listening, compromising, using patience, and following through by doing their part.

Next, we have to look at the teamwork tasks we're asking students to complete--are we starting too big or are we beginning with just-right tasks? Do we scaffold this teaching goal enough. Have we given the work enough thought? How are we approaching this goal as an entire school, school system?

And, we must consult our own teamwork skills. I've noted before that I work with a couple of educators who were members of sports teams growing up. I find that their teamwork skills are exemplar. They both had very supportive families, but I also think that their experiences playing sports has had a positive effect on their ability to be optimal team members.

Last year, a parent who works in the tech field confided in me that teamwork skills are essential in the work place. He was in full support of the teamwork efforts we are employing at school.

Next week, we'll focus on this goal with depth. What ideas and resources do you think will help us out in this regard?

Sufficient support

Educators can only spread themselves so thin--in every class, educators consider students' need for supports, readiness to learn, supports in place, and time for best possible teaching. When teachers, like me, teach a number of different classes, it is easy to see how those attributes play a role in the success of individual students and the class in general.

For example, sometimes there are classes that have greater support in the classroom and at home, and sometimes there are groups of children that have less classroom support and less support at home. When we look carefully at this, it is often easy to see how one class may do better due to their right number of supports and one class might not do as well since they don't have enough support.

How do we help students in classes that lack best possible supports?

First, educators have to speak up to try to get more support for students at home and in school. Sometimes schools may rethink they way they deploy staff and the priorities they focus on in this regard.

Next, educators needs to speak up for just class make-ups. When one class is filled with students who need lots of support and another class has few children who need extra support, that creates unfair learning opportunities. At elementary school, it is important to make classes as equal as they can be with regard to needed supports.

And, if you can't get the support you need, you may need to reach out for greater supports in many ways. One way is to seek greater volunteer support. The challenge here is that if children need a lot of supports, those children generally need a professional educator's support rather than a volunteer. You can also create an atmosphere in the class where students help one another--students, particularly at the older grades, are terrific at teaching each other and helping one another achieve. There's a just-right equation when employing student helpers as you want to make sure that those students also have good learning opportunities, but we know that teaching is the best way to learn, so when young children teach one another, they learn a lot too.

This post also demonstrates one very important reason why administrators have to be careful about comparing one teacher to the next, especially educators who teach same groups of children all day. The make-up of classes greatly affect students' achievement and administrators have to be mindful of that as they create classes and evaluate educators too.

Family members also sometimes don't realize how little time educators have for each child in a class setting. Most educators are working with large groups of students each day, and those large groups prevent a lot of personalized attention. That's why it is important for families to find ways to prioritize good learning habits at home, habits such as daily reading, completing home assignments, and educational related recreation and family events such as visiting museums, playing games, watching good movies, reading good books together and more.

How do we best support our students at school, at home, and in the greater community? The list of possible supports is endless, and it takes our good work on our own and together to well support each of our students.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Who does what with whom?

A common question in schools today is who does what with whom? This is a common question because schools are generally filled with multiple types of staff and a large variety of expectations and goals.

When a class has little complexity or variability, this question is not too difficult to answer, but when a class presents greater complexity and variability, the question becomes difficult. Who does what with whom?

At the start of the year before I knew the students well, I had a good idea about how I wanted the class to run, but the better I know these students, the more that original idea has changed. Through knowledge of the children, knowledge gained from collegial/family/student conversations, observations, data collection, and more I have gained a deeper understanding of each and every student and that means that the expectations of who does what with whom has changed too.

For example a colleague that works in my classroom and I discussed our small math groups and decided to switch up the students in each group so that we could better serve their specific needs. That has worked out well.

One challenge with addressing the question of who does what with whom is time to connect and discuss this question in ways that everyone understands. Understanding is key yet the time to communicate effectively is not always available which presents a challenge.

I will try to build in some time for this during transitions from one class or lesson to another. That will help. The more we understand our roles and the opportunities to best serve the students in ways that matter, the better we teach. This is a topic I'm focused on at the moment as the school year evolves.

Good Support

Teaching well benefits from good support.

Last night's State of the Union Speech by bigoted, classist, racist Trump found him demeaning the good work we do day in and day out in public schools. He cares little for our safety, support, or potential to truly serve children and their families well. Trump is not an enemy to teachers and public school children everywhere.

The speech also has overtones and direct references to Trump's evident support for White supremacy which directly distances the majority of Americans from the American dream. To give a racist, bigoted man the Medal of Freedom demonstrates Trump's allegiance to hate, prejudice, and greed rather than American ideals.

I will continue to do what I can after school hours to work against the corrupt, bigoted, self-serving Trump administration, and during the school day, I'll do what I can to support my students, their families, and my colleagues well.

Today I'll support students deep math study--this is not the fun part of math teaching, but instead the difficult, detailed work that helps children strengthen specific skills related to the content they are working to master. Of course there are games we can play and projects we can do, but there are times when we simply have to do the specific, targeted study that clears up misconceptions and builds fluency with the standards.

Fortunately the students are invested in doing their best, reaching, and learning as much as they can. They are getting better and better at asking questions and embracing the mountain climb that good learning is--they're not afraid to work hard and know that choosing good partners, ideal study spaces, and the best strategies makes learning successful.

I reviewed a large number of assignments last night. That informed me that most students are practicing the focus concepts with care. I was also informed about a few misconceptions that I'll clear up today at the start of class. There's lots to learn about math in math class and there is a lot to learn about learning during math study too. Onward.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Student Study Review Takes Time

The time required outside of the school hours is one detriment of teaching. For example, I just worked a full day, but I'm staring at about four hours of student review. It is daunting.

Some may ask, why do you do it? Can't you get away without the extra hours. The reality is that when I spend the time reviewing student work, I am able to teach children better and children work with greater investment since they know I'm taking in an interest in their efforts.

I try to make the review routines as efficient and timely as possible, and sometimes I can do the work without many extra hours, but in general, a good review of student study takes time.

Fortunately, it was a wonderful teaching day. I put the learning from yesterday's tough day in place which helped the day to be a good one. A good day is energizing and this will help me finish today's task. Onward.

Rethinking Mondays

Mondays are the toughest teaching day this year. Why?

As I thought about that this morning, I realized that we have no time on Monday morning to reconnect as a team, and that may be part of the problem. Students arrive at school on Monday mornings filled with weekend stories and experiences, and it may be that we have to build in some Monday morning connect time.

It's tough to change the schedule midyear since so many specialists are already scheduled to support students throughout the day. These specialists support students throughout the school so it is nearly impossible to change their schedules now. However, I want to make note of this need for a Monday morning class check-in as I think ahead to the 2020-2021 schedule.

There are a few other scheduling changes that we can make to make Monday better. One change is to provide greater and more tailored services to a few students, services that include a morning check-in list and support, explicit review and discussion about the day's schedule, and more support for independent times of study. We have a meeting today where we may have time to discuss this. I can also add an Open Circle time for Monday afternoons. Students generally look forward to these circle meetings, meetings where we discuss issues important to students and school.

Recognizing the impact of change on children is also important. As I analyzed Monday's challenge, I recognized that there were many changes occurring that day and in recent days. My colleague and I were at a professional meeting on Friday. A beloved teaching assistant has been absent for a number of days. A new substitute greeted them on Monday morning since I was at a professional meeting, and there was a teaching change at our grade level. While some children flow easily with change, others meet change with anxiety, worry, and unpredictable behavior. It is good to be mindful of this when changes occur.

Mondays have been the toughest day this year, all year. Hopefully this analysis will help to mitigate the challenges Monday presents in the months ahead.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Tough teaching day

It was a tough teaching day. One probable cause was the Super Bowl since some children may have stayed up late to watch the game. Another reason was missing staff due to illness and other matters. And then there were children exhibiting behaviors that send the message that it's time to rethink some of the structures in place. How can we mitigate disruptive, troubling behaviors by creating a routine and other supports that help these children get what they need and prosper?

After much thinking, one important update to the program is to spend more time previewing what's to come and what is expected with some children. Clearly some need that kind of support for greater success. I'll begin that tomorrow.

Also, some children need more time to talk, tell their stories, ask questions, and check in. I'll make more time for this too.

What many need this year is not so much the curriculum program or typical supports, but instead more time to be heard, discuss, and query. I'll make time for that too.

Teaching, like parenting, is always a work in progress. Young children more often let us know what they need via actions rather than words so, in a way, we always have to be detectives figuring out the best ways to support these children. It was a tough teaching day, but there were no errors to worry about, but instead inspiration to remake the day for better results in the future. Onward.

Learning what you already know

Have you ever noticed a child's face and body posture when you are teaching something they already know? Sometimes they tune out. Sometimes they get angry. Sometimes they call out.

I typically respond to the children with next steps. I may say that we're going to do a quick review then spread out depending on what we need, and what we know. I may say that it is important to revisit the topic in a new way as there is always more to learn. I may even ask the child if they want to work on something else if I know that the child has mastered the concept.

I am a lot like those children when new presenters that don't know me introduce information that I've already learned a lot about, information I've considered with depth. My initial response is to be insulted that someone can treat me as if I've never learned the information before. Like the students, I get turned off too. Yet, I know that there's always more to learn--like everybody else, I don't know it all. Then, as I tell students, I coach myself to listen, learn more, and consider deeper questions related to the topic. I also remind myself to listen to what others have to say to understand well where they are coming from, what they know, and what they question.

In the best of circumstances, I believe it is best for teachers to get to know their students well--to listen to the students, hear what they have to say, and teach those students well via their interests, questions, and needs.

There's aways more to learn about teaching and learning. None of us are ever there, there's always more to know. Onward.

Teachers: Sometimes we don't have the answers

It's okay not to have the answer as an educator. We are met everyday with situations that are new to us. No matter how long you teach, you will always come across new challenges--events you simply don't know how to respond to. The key is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do.

Be honest
It is okay to say to a colleague, parent, or student, "I simply don't know what to do in this situation. I want ____________________ for you or your child or this situation, but I don't know how to get there. What do you suggest?" Typically beginning by questioning the stakeholders involved is a terrific place to start.

Make a plan to find out
Work with students, colleagues, and family members to figure out the situation beginning with what you know, "We know that. . . ." And then, once you've collected the knowns, then work on the vision statement--what is it that we want to achieve and why. Make sure your desired outcome and rationale are solid and agreed upon by the team. It is likely that the first problem in getting to the place you desire is the fact that the team of students, family members, and educators do not agree on the vision. After you know what works and where you want to go, then fill in the steps from what is happening now to where you want to go.

As I think of a situation I'm working on now. The knowns are students' abilities, curiosity, good supports, and positive health and energy. The desire is to help the children become full members of the classroom community in positive ways that include the child's choice and voice. The steps ahead include greater modeling, teaching, and support for the many ways the children can more successfully be included in the classroom community. The challenge is to list those ways to gain greater inclusion specifically and then to figure out with the team how we can provide greater modeling, teaching, and support for those efforts.

Chart your efforts
It is easy to forget your efforts in areas that are challenging or unknown, so it is important to clearly document your efforts. The documentation help you to look back at where you started, the missteps, and the progress you've made. The documentation can be helpful to future, similar situations too.

In teaching as in life, we will continually be met with situations that are new, confusing, and unknown to us. The worst thing we can do is pretend that we understand the situation well when we don't. The best steps we can take are to acknowledge the mystery of the situation, work with the team to make a plan, and chart the efforts. That's a good way to move from unknowing to knowing in ways that benefit our students well.

Flexibility Challenge

Early this weekend, I reviewed the plans for the school week ahead. Confident that I was ready for a good week, I reviewed the school calendar only to find what looked like a staffing change that affected my homeroom. I was perturbed as I had planned for what I thought was the plan only to find out that the plan was different. In real time, that meant an extra 1/2 hour of work prior to my 7:45 meeting--ugh!

Changes happen in schools all the time, and one of the most challenging aspects of teaching is the fact that we have to be flexible and ready to react to change with positivity. Yet, are all those changes necessary? Is there a way to avoid last minute changes for the most part? I want to think more about that.

Unexpected changes that one can never plan for are generally not too hard to respond to, but changes that you think might be avoidable are more difficult. What can we do to avoid those kinds of last minute changes?

Many schools operate with not enough staffing to do the job well. That makes teaching well challenging. For example, are there teachers in your school who are not replaced by a substitute when they are absent? If they are teachers, and they are not replaced, who does their job for a day and what students lose out on their services? In my opinion, any full time teacher or assistant that is absent, should be replaced by a substitute teacher. System leaders may say, "But we don't have the money for that," and my response is we need to well fund schools--we can't expect schools to run without ample staffing.

Further, due to the low pay of many teaching-related jobs, sometimes it is difficult to get people who are well trained and ready to do the job, thus it is on-the-job-training which in some cases works out just fine, but in other cases, does not work out well at all. I believe that all education jobs should receive ample training, preparation, and support--we can't just expect people to be dropped in a school setting and know what to do. We can do better in this regard.

Long Term Planning
It is essential that school teams engage in long term planning in order to alleviate scheduling and other changes that can be avoided by long term planning. In the best of circumstances, calendars for the school year are created the spring before that year and all main events are scheduled. Then as people schedule new events, they can work around the main events.

The same is true for scheduling. Schools should provide ample lead time in the summer and during the first days of schools for staff to schedule services and main areas of teaching. Beginning the year with a good pattern of services and programming ensures that we teach that which we prioritize to be most important for the students.

Good Communication
The principal at our school sends out a daily newsletter. I LOVE that because it keeps everyone on the same page with regard to expectations, special events, and school-wide planning. Good communication helps us to avoid unexpected changes--the kinds of changes that interrupt what we have planned and add extra time to our schedules.

There will be unexpected events in school. We do have to be flexible to be good educators, but we can work with our school teams to create structures that make undue change a rare occasion rather than a daily event. This matters when it comes to teaching children well. Do you agree?

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Teaching/Learning: First Week in February 2020

As I ready to prepare Sunday dinner and enjoy the company of loving family members, I want to think about the school week ahead. What will take priority?

Progress Reports
I have a few more progress reports to continue. Those are due tomorrow.

Student Meetings
There will be a couple of important students meetings this week, meeting when I'll think about how we can better serve several students' needs and interests in the classroom. I want to think deeply with colleagues and family members about these students and what we can do to empower their school experience in enriching, meaningful, and engaging ways.

Staff Meetings
There are also a couple of staff meetings focused on culturally proficient teaching. We'll read and discuss this article, then listen to the author provide greater depth on the topic. I always look forward to learning that develops the way we teach and learn together in meaningful ways.

Math Practice and Review
Students will have a number of days to review the math we've been studying recently and since the beginning of the year. There are paper-pencil packets, online practice tests, and other study venues that students will access on their own and together to study. Then on Friday, students will take the unit test to show what they know. In the meantime, I'll review a very large number of student papers to see who is skilled at the targeted learning standards and who still needs more help and support. At the end of the week, I'll do the same with students' assessments.

I'll continue to read Bud, Not Buddy with one student. We are really enjoying the story and having many, many rich conversations as we read.

Climate Change Projects
The team will make time to discuss these projects at our weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting this week. We'll schedule full teaching days in the week ahead to focus on this project. It is the kind of project that requires deep time to do well.

Healthy Routine
It is always difficult to live with a healthy routine when you teach since the limitless proposition of school work has a way of taking over your schedule. I'll continue to reach for this as I teach and learn.

It will be a good week ahead--a week I look forward to. Now for Sunday dinner prep. . . onward.

Loving the children we teach

I contemplated love this morning. The contemplation seed occurred yesterday when I pondered the questions, what do I want; what do I need? As I pondered, I realized that it was important to me to live a more loving life. Of course, as I pondered these questions, I realized that there are areas of life where I can be more loving, and in those areas I've wrongly projected what people need rather than truly ask those people, what do you need? how can I help?

In part, my contemplation included the students at school--children for whom I believe I can serve in better ways, children I need to listen to more. It is not always easy to be able to listen to all of our students in school given the numbers of students we serve and the busy schedules we have, but we must make time for this as it is the only way that we can serve our students with good service, the only way we can truly help our students achieve in meaningful, life-enriching ways.

So how can we make more time to listen to our students and then respond to their needs and desires? We have to re-look at our schedules to determine who is getting attention and time. It is likely that children that need more time to express themselves for all kinds of reasons may not be getting the air time and service they deserve--how do we carve out time in the busy school schedule to honor the voices and choices of these students? It is also likely that some students who face the most confusing, complex situations in life may not be getting the deep and meaningful time they need to sort out life's complexities in order to move ahead of the confusion and complexity life has handed them. How do we make time for these students to express themselves, tell their stories, and receive the kinds of help that truly make a difference.

It is easy to love and serve students who fit the schedules and goals we already have in place at schools, but it is not as easy to love and serve students who don't fit into our neatly created schedules, curriculum programs, and plans, yet these are the students who need us the most. These are the students for whom a loving approach to teaching and learning will make life-changing results. We can't ignore this awesome opportunity that we have to truly make a difference in children's lives.

I will continue to think about how I might love and serve my students, their families, and colleagues better in the days ahead. Love is the first answer when we seek to elevate what we do and how we do it. Onward.