Sunday, May 31, 2020

Respond to George Floyd Murder: Educate yourself; then act.

We will all respond differently to George Floyd's murder given our ages, locations, professions, and perspectives. What's important here is that we don't just stand passively by and do nothing in the face of this injustice, an injustice that represents a long history of injustice against Blacks and African Americans in our country (I use both terms as friends have told me they prefer one or the other).

As a white woman, I am always fearful when it comes to talking about or responding to racism in any way. Yet, my education has taught me the worse thing you can do is to sit idly by and do nothing--we must all work against our racist roots, racist culture, and racist injustice. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to do this. In my earliest days, good educators taught me about the Civil Rights Movement. My grandmother schooled me about racism too--she had many tough times in her life and was empathetic about the injustices in society including those due to racism. My parents were always human rights advocates too. At my Jesuit College, we learned a lot about injustice and then as an educator, my school system participated in terrific anti-racist education initiatives where I learned a lot. Individual teachers in my system have made anti-racism efforts a priority and they have shared their work and advocacy with all of us. Most recently librarians, reading specialists, and other educators have made it a priority to fill our online and real time book shelves with stories about people from underserved and oppressed groups too.

Last summer, I participated in a terrific online study group related to the book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, which helped to improve my teaching in significant ways. To respond to Floyd's death in a way that can make a difference, I am starting an online book group related to the book, White Fragility. I am hoping that a book group related to this book will prompt greater growth and positive change with regard to my role as an anti-racist educator, parent, and community member. If you would like to join this book group, please fill out this survey. The group will begin the week of June 22. There are a variety of ways that you can participate in the group including a small, focused group that shares on a Google Doc, a larger group that shares via a Twitter chat, and a medium sized group that shares via a Google Meet.

I've learned in life that if we don't respond with action, our words are empty. This is the first step I'll take to work against the violence, racism, and murder George Floyd and so many others like him have experienced.

New Yorker Review of White Fragility

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Collaboration, Creativity, and Communication

Too often we rely on the same old, same old processes for collaboration and creativity. The pandemic has fostered a renewed look at both collaboration and creativity because we have to think differently to live in these times--what we've always been doing doesn't work at home or at school. We've received a giant push to make changes whether we are ready or not.

If you're like me, your initial reaction to some of these changes is dissatisfaction and passivity. "I don't like it and I'm not going to do that," may be words you've spoken when it comes to staying home, teaching online, wearing masks, celebrating a birthday party via ZOOM and so many changes. Yet, if you're also like me and so many others, you may recognize that it does no one any good to stay resistant to needed change, and instead this is an opportunity for creativity, learning, and looking at life anew.

This morning I worked on a team project for our school. Most staff members contributed to the project with their own creativity via words and images. I added some music and strung the creative pieces together in a short video. As I worked on the project, I was struck at how this share that virtually involved no conversation was so powerful. As I read each staff member's words and studied the images and composition they chose, I was moved in many different ways. In the end, I recognized that this mostly virtual collaboration increased my respect for those I work with every day and gave me a chance to see each team member in a different light.

One silver lining of the pandemic response is that we are coming up with new ways to be together and collaborate. We are also noticing that some of the old ways we collaborated may not be as effective in every situation. For example, earlier in the week, I was apart of a process that included mostly conversation. At the end of the meeting, I found myself craving a better process for the work, one that would result in greater satisfaction, creativity, and decision making.

A key need in our world today is better structures for collaboration, creativity, and communication. The problems are too big and there are too many of us at the table to rely on the old ways of making decisions, creating, and communicating. We have to think anew about these vital components of living and learning together.

Next week at school, students will focus on what it takes to make a good team, and then they'll work as teams of about 15 students to creatively design a backyard waterpark. Later they'll embed this learning in their own creativity, communication, and collaboration as they embark on the Global Cardboard and Recycled Goods Challenge--an opportunity to create something wonderful that matches the theme of "Summer Fun." I'm excited about this learning endeavor because I know that my students will be the leaders in the future and I want those leaders to be able to effectively create, collaborate, and communicate in an effort to build a more peaceful, positive world. Onward.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Learning at school or remotely share the same goal: engaging, meaningful education

Whether we're at school or teaching remotely, our mission should be the same which is to engage students in meaningful, empowering learning experiences. Yet, as we teach remotely, we have to think differently about what this means and how we make sure we are true to this mission.

What matters in this regard?

Similar to school as we have always known it, to learn well, you have to show up. Yes, there are always a few who surpass every expectation and don't show up, but for the most part, to learn well, you have to show up. The few assessments I've given during remote learning have demonstrated that children who don't show up, don't learn the material as well as those that do show up. Attending virtual classes, just like attendance at school buildings, needs to be a requirement.

While attendance must be a requirement, there has to be choice too. Unlike teaching children in a school building, when you are teaching remotely you are dealing with a much greater variety of student scenarios since students live in varied homes, landscapes, and family situations. That's why choice is more important than ever. For example, I taught many classes online. In some cases the time of the class was not a good fit for a family. Since I was teaching many similar classes, I could offer some choice about which class a child attends. This worked well. Yet, we won't be able to do that in all instances, but it should be a consideration as we create schedules and make plans.

Further, it's integral to have choices with regard to assignments too. Students have varying types and numbers of supplies at home, varying spaces to work with given the size of their families or homes, and as always, a large variety of interests when it comes to how, when, and what they do as they learn. Providing multiple choices with regard to student study, practice, and project learning opportunities is a good fit for remote learning and teaching.

Learning Standards and Goals
It is essential to direct the teaching we do in a direction that is meaningful for children and helpful to their overall academic growth and development. We need to keep our eyes and efforts focused in this direction and we need to work with each other to make sure that we are meeting the most essential goals. As I think of the most essential goals for our grade level, I note the following:
  • Every child is safe.
  • Every child is an enthusiastic, engaged, and confident learner. We foster positive learning mindsets, social-emotional intelligence, self advocacy, and positive academic, social, emotional, and healthy behaviors. 
  • Every child is included. We teach all children and we let all children know that they are a vital and valuable members of the team.
  • Children develop a strong foundation of mathematical concept, skill, and knowledge. They develop their strength as mathematical thinkers.
  • Children read every day and develop their ability to choose great books and read with skill, understanding, and enjoyment. 
  • Children write every day and develop their ability to write in multiple genres with skill, clarity, expression, and voice. 
  • Children gain knowledge via social studies and science concepts about the world around them in rich and engaging ways. Without a solid knowledge base, children's learning is stunted. It is essential to fill the curriculum program with intriguing, wonderful stories and information via multiple, varied learning experiences. 
  • Children have the opportunity to direct their learning, create, invent, lead, contribute, and make positive change. 
Well Crafted Learning Experiences
Learning experiences need to be engaging and thoughtful. We need to vary what we do and use the most effective tools. We have to work together as we develop our blended learning approach and maximize the strengths, perspectives, experiences, skills, and insights of the entire team to present to students learning experiences that truly make a difference and promote academic engagement, growth,  and success. It is essential that professional learning are driven by conversations and shared planning and creativity related to this.

Effective interactive and presentation tools and sites
There are many, many tools out there for teaching and learning remotely. As I look forward, I want to choose tools that work in a blended learning setting, tools that foster 24-7 learning access for students wherever they are. At present tools that work well at the grade level I teach have included the following:
  • Google Presentation: Presentation slideshows are perfect for presentations, interactive lessons, unit roll outs, and student share. 
  • Geogebra: This is a super math drawing tool. So far, I don't think that I can set up an interactive board and invite students to work on the same board with me, but I have to explore that more.
  • Google Classroom: I want to explore Google Classroom more. It has definitely been helpful in some instances, but too cumbersome in others. I will continue to explore and use this in part.
  • Google Websites: Our team is moving to virtual portfolios next year and we'll use Google websites for these portfolios. We explored this in the past and opted for the handheld books, but now with the quick transition to remote learning and all the hard copy portfolios stuck on shelves in the classroom, the switch was an easy decision.
  • Learning Menus and Class Website: These tools work especially well for blended online and offline classroom learning. We use Google apps for this work.
  • BrainPop: Our school subscribes to this and I want to use this more.
  • WeVideo: I really like this collaborative movie making platform and hope that our school system will invest in it as well.
  • Google Draw and Docs: I have been able to create a lot of good math lessons with these tools. The tools and docs are helpful for math model making. 
  • Google Meet: This is a good teaching platform, however I need to update my computer so it works better. 
  • Interactive Math Tools: There are many great tools online for math games, math models, and more.
  • State MCAS Site: This has been a great resource for math learning experience creation -- I can use the questions there as part of a lesson or to spur a class project.
  • Math websites such as Symphony Math, IXL, Track My Progress, Khan Academy, and That Quiz are all super websites for providing students with quick feedback and positive standards-based practice.
  • Google Forms are easy to use for decision trees, student surveys, student response and quizzes. The quick feedback and easy to manipulate student response data makes this a terrific tool. 
  • YouTube is a ready resource for almost any information you are looking for. 
  • EdPuzzle: This tool gives you the ability to direct students' focus throughout a video with stop times to reflect, answer questions, and think or respond to specific facts and information. 
Essentially you can see that Google plays a big role in the tools we use for blended learning and teaching. Those tools overall are great. 

Assignment Completion
During this period of remote teaching and learning, we've encouraged assignment completion, but there has been no consequence for those who don't complete assignments. Next year we'll have to share clear expectations with students and families and there will need to be some kind of incentive for students to complete the assigned work. Some students naturally complete all work. Some families support the completion of all or most work. Other students don't complete their work and other families don't support completion of schoolwork. This is a consideration the team will have to discuss.

We have to assess what we are doing to see what is working and what is not working. We need to work with colleagues and other stakeholders to dissect our efforts in multiple ways to notice what we are doing that's working and what we are doing that can be better. These assessments have to be varied and thoughtful. They must include all voices and be tied to our essential goals. We have to be careful about using conjecture rather than thoughtful assessment of the work we are doing in order to improve. 

We can't simply throw a group of people in a room and expect good work to derive from conversation alone. We need to use good processes to get at the significant outcomes and needs of optimal blended learning. Processes such as colleague circles or hosting conversations are ways to arrive at more meaningful information than to simply just expect a group of people with no thoughtful process to come up with an inclusive, substantial, and meaningful plan. No matter how big or small your group is, you need to think about the processes involved in decision making and the structures that underly the work you do. 

As we consider blended learning carefully, we'll notice that some structures have to change. Some roles will no longer be effective, others will have to be revised, and some will be overtaxed. Honestly, I do feel that the role of classroom teacher may be one that is overtaxed at this time since a lot of responsibility has fallen on our shoulders with short time and little support or needed time for essential planning and preparation. We need to think about the structures in place and how to re-think the framework that supports all that happens in schools so that the framework can well support a blended learning environment that includes online and offline education in school and out of schools. 

Every time I sit down to capsulate this grand move from teaching in a school building to remote teaching and learning, I feel like I am trying to catch 100 butterflies in a net. I can't capture all the ideas, perspectives, challenges, strengths, and needs--there's too much happening at once and it's impossible to see it from a distance since it's happening right here all around me. Yet each day, I continue to think about it and try to capture the butterflies that I can to examine what we are doing more closely in order to better the efforts to meet the goals we seek to meet. Onward. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

To teach well you have to coach yourself ahead with positivity

The energy to do my job well comes from within. Few to no people really care about what I do daily unless I make an error. Then people care, but as long as I am doing the job I'm expected to do, no one pays much attention.

Teachers don't become teachers because they want recognition, they teach because they believe a good education makes a difference in people's lives. Teachers teach because they want to spend their lives contributing to something greater than themselves; they want to empower lives.

I have always enjoyed learning. I always enjoyed school, and school made a significant difference in my life. I wanted to be apart of that difference for others' lives as well.

One of the most difficult parts of teaching is the fact that you have to continually draw from within yourself to get the energy to do the work that you know is important. You have to reach way down to energize yourself to keep working towards doing a better job for the children you teach. And you have to deal with a lot of outside people and agencies who work against your good energy and good work all the time--people more concerned with their own reputations, ambition, and success than the mission of the job. These agencies and people are similar to a barbed wire fence--they oppose the good work you hope to do all the time. Their efforts are defeating, yet they persist.

Teachers have to find ways to deal with this barbed wire because if they don't the oppressive and hurtful energy will take you down--you can't teach well when you are oppressed.

To simply recognize that there will be some in your midst who don't care much about the true mission of teaching which is to serve children well is one step forward, and then to coach yourself in ways that help you to avoid the oppressive energy and dictates of those people is another step forward. Further you have to find groups of educators who do care to help you sustain your energy in ways that matter--those people will help you to set your teaching/learning sails in a positive direction.

Teaching is good work. Teaching is positive work. Teaching makes a difference, and to do the job well, we have to coach ourselves ahead with people who support the work we do in positive ways. Onward.

Keep the focus: June Teaching; Summer Learning and Advocacy

The teaching/learning plate is full. The next three weeks will be very busy. It is important to stay the course with positivity, professionalism, and good work.

It is also the time of year that some distanced from the classroom seem to get a surge of energy that trickles down to extra jobs and tasks for those of us busy with the day-to-day teaching/learning work. That can be oppressive and get a teacher down. I have to beware of that.

So I'm writing my what's important list so I can refer to this as I navigate the final weeks of the school year.
  • The children's feelings are important--we want everyone to end the year on a positive note.
  • Engaging learning opportunities are important--we want to bridge the school year study with ideas and modeling for engaging summer learning that's fun, creative, and positive.
  • Completing the necessary paperwork such as report cards is important.
  • Cleaning up the classroom is important.
  • Preparing materials for a positive move-up day and positive clap-out are important. It is important to think carefully about the student/parent role with regards to summer learning and the transition to an unpredictable fall. Do we want to introduce students to the learning menu via a summer learning menu? How do we want to foster a good relationship with the parent community via our move-up day presentation and letter? 
  • Helping students complete their final projects with care is important. 
  • Responding to parent emails is important. 
  • Being present, being positive, and continuing to teach virtually until the end is important.
  • Celebrating the fifth graders is important. We will create a virtual clap-out, watch and celebrate the fifth grade play, and present and share the students' amazing biography reports, Global Cardboard/Recycled Goods Creations, and Independent Learning Adventures 
Lots will happen over the summer while teachers and students are away.

During the summer, I will focus on personal and family matters, take a vacation up north, read more fiction, and read and focus on two main books, White Fragility and Limitless Math. As far as advocacy goes, I will focus my advocacy on getting out the vote--I'll think more deeply about this once school ends at the end of June. 

Navigating the road ahead; help or hindrance?

Are you a help or a hindrance?

This is a good question to consider about your work and the work of others.

Then, once you make that consideration veer your teaching/learning ship towards helping and helpers.

There are some incredible helpers in my midst.

First of all, the students help me all the time. They are quick to provide suggestions, corrections, and ask questions. They are also wonderful at noticing what is working and giving compliments. They are enthusiastic about learning and creative with their learning endeavor. They are earnest and hard working. They are truly helpers when it comes to teaching and learning well. This is awesome.

My grade-level team is very helpful too. We divvy up the work, help one another, and provide a teaching/learning program that is child-centered and based on the best that we know. We are always reaching out to learn more, try new ideas, and support one another. This is very positive too.

The parents are helpful too. They want the best for their children and they team with us to teach their children well. We could not do the job we do without that teamwork.

There are some, however, who are not helpful. They demonstrate no real care about what we do or how we do it, yet they may be quick to give advice and direct what you should do. There are others whose lack of help demonstrates itself with passivity or turning a blind eye to your questions, outreach or ideas.

Bottom line we have to steer clear of those who don't help--we waste our time getting upset with them, and instead steer towards those that energize, invigorate, and contribute to the work we do. Onward.

Remote teaching and learning: fear factor

There's a fear factor that I'm going to return to school in the fall and there will be many experts telling me how to do my job. I've faced that in the past and there is nothing worse than having multiple people who do not regularly teach children come to you to tell you how to do your job. Yet, I can feel the urgency of some to make this experience all about them and not about the teachers, students, or parents. I'm afraid of this.

I am the first one to reach out to learn or listen to someone who has something of value to tell me about teaching and learning. I love to learn how to do my job better, but too often, I've worked with the kinds of people who are not too concerned with the children or education and much more concerned with checking the boxes, elevating their resumes, looking like the hero, or desiring to be the boss, and those kinds of people truly are oppressive when it comes to doing a good job as a teacher.

How do we combat this situation? How do we ready ourselves for what could be an onslaught of bad ideas and misdirected, uninformed decisions when it comes to optimal teaching and learning. What can we do?

Keep the mission upfront
We have to keep the mission of our work center stage. What is most important about what we do and how we do it?

Safety first
We can not accept any decisions that put teachers, staff, students, or families in harm's way.

Equity matters
We cannot accept decisions that leave individuals or groups out of the equation. Our job is to teach all children, not some.

Quality is needed
What we teach, how we teach, and the tools and resources we teach with matter. We can't settle for low quality substitutes, but instead must have high quality resources, tools, colleagues, and other supports.

We are educators, not child care providers
Yes, we do care for children and that's paramount, but we can't lose the fact that we are educators and that's our job. If working conditions don't allow us to teach, then we can't do our jobs. We need positive work conditions to do our jobs well.

Teachers can't be asked to fund schools
As it is now, teachers are using their at-home tools and resources to a large degree tot each virtually. Teachers can't be expected to outfit at-home offices without support. This scenario has to be examined and dealt with fairly.

Reasonable and doable expectations are necessary
The workload has to be reasonable and doable. Expectations can't outpace an educator's time, skill, or will. Educators want to do a good job, and when expectations are reasonable and doable, they are able to do a good job.

Teacher voice is essential
Too often decisions for teachers are made without teacher voice, this has to stop. Teachers need to have an integral voice in all that is planned as we move ahead.

Teaching Math 2020-2021

I'm not sure what 2020-2021 will look like given the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic, but I do want to apply what I've learned this  year to next year's math program. Here's what I'll do no matter what the teaching/learning situation is.

There is good reason to become a strong mathematician. Strong mathematicians understand the world around them better and are better set for solving problems and understanding complex situations. Further to know your math means you're less likely to get cheated and more likely to succeed academically and professionally. There are many good reasons to learn math and become a successful math student.

Clearly students' readiness for successful math learning is essential. This means that students must have a positive mindset for math learning--they have to understand that math is important and that everyone is capable of learning math. Students also have to have a good understanding of how brains work and how to maximize their brain power for optimal math learning. Further they have to have the materials that support math study. Materials such as a computer, sticky notes, drawing paper, colored pencils, graph paper, pencils, and a place to study math are all needed for learning math well whether it be virtual or in real time.

Parent Support
It is important to introduce parents to the math program and what they can do to support their young math learners. It is also important that parents understand the math program expectations.

Attention to the Math Standards
I believe that the standards' framework we have for math learning and teaching is a solid set of good standards that create a strong foundation for math learning and teaching success. The key factor here is to give each standard the attention the standards deserves with deep thoughtful learning and steady, varied practice and project opportunities. Next year, I want to increase the time-on-task for math learning and teaching. I believe that a strong committed start to the subject will be a good way to start the year no matter whether we are in school or virtual.

Learning Routines
Establishing positive teaching/learning routines allows more time for deep, thoughtful math learning and problem solving. I want to think about what those routines will be, but right now, I know that some of the elements included will be the following:
  • Check the daily supply list, organize those supplies
  • Add the date to your online or offline learning notebook
  • Participate in the lesson introduction
  • Engage in the learning activity
  • Participate in the summary/closing activity
  • Complete independent/collaborative homework
  • Review/respond to student homework
Regular formative assessments will be given and used to inform program efforts, staffing, and student support. 

Explore New Math Tools
There are a lot of great math tools out there. I would like to explore those tools more in the weeks ahead. I would like to incorporate some of those tools into math learning in 2020-2021. Some tools I want to use in the year ahead include the following:
  • BrainPop
  • Geogebra
  • IXL
  • Google Suite Apps
  • Khan Academy
  • Symphony Math
  • That Quiz
  • Graspable Math
Program Role Out
I will consider last year's roll out carefully and likely tweak and improve. 

Today's Teaching/Learning Menu

Each day is a new teaching/learning adventure.

Today I'll work with students to review the geometry we've studied together in the past few days. The geometry study generally comes easier to all the math students so it has been a bit of a reprieve from the many weeks of challenging fraction study we focused on throughout March, April, and the start of May. After this, math study will turn to STEAM study as we explore topics such as teamwork, creativity, and project based learning. We generally end the fifth grade year with this focus using the Global Cardboard/Recycled Goods Challenge. We'll do the same this year with a remote learning version of the Challenge. 

With three and a half weeks of school following this week, we'll begin to move towards the celebratory events of the final days of school--events that will bring closure to this highly unusual teaching year, but overall a positive year nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Gardening is a great teacher

Whether it be a tomato plant or herbs in a container on the windowsill or fire escape or a backyard garden, gardening is a great teacher for all of us. I was reminded of that yesterday as I toiled in my "Little Garden that Could" in the backyard yesterday. As I carefully planted each seedling, I thought about the time and nurturing these plants take. Weeks ago I started many of the seeds in little cups and placed them in the sunlight in my living room, then yesterday I transferred the tiny plants into the soil. I also bought a few plants that were bigger for security. The garden soil comes from our compost heap. Now I'll keep track of the weather to make sure that these plants get the water that they need. I'm also cognizant of the birds, deer, bunnies, and woodchucks that visit my yard and concerned that my tiny fence will not be enough to protect the plants from these animals. Time will tell.

What am I learning? First of all, this is a lesson in patience and nurturing as these plants demand good time and good care. Further it is a lesson in commitment--when we give good time and good care to endeavors, we reap the results. It is a lesson in making mistakes and remedying those mistakes--I find myself researching often online to find out why a seed isn't germinating or why a plant is floundering. Hopefully, in time, this result in lessons about aesthetics, harvesting, and cooking too.

Children can garner so many essential lessons about life, science, and the environment as gardeners. Especially at a time when many are learning and living with stay-at-home restrictions, gardening offers a welcome focus and pastime.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Reading list becomes a wisdom list

I am looking for mentors for my wisdom journey. In the past, I've created reading lists to help me with this pursuit, but now I'm creating a wisdom list of mentors. I reached out on Twitter and I'll reach out elsewhere. I'll add my "wisdom mentor" list here and comment later.

Recalibration during a pandemic

This pandemic has made all of us recalibrate our lives--we can't live as we did before, and we have to reach inside ourselves daily to get the inspiration and energy to move on to where we hope to go.

I've been reconsidering my blogging lately. In so many ways, my blogs represent my painstaking will to push forward and do better as a mom, family member, teacher, and community member. In a sense, the blog represents a fight between my will and my responsibilities--I want to be responsible and do the right thing, yet too often my will pushes me away from my areas of responsibility as a teacher and parent to a desire to travel, explore, and see the world anew.

So as I recalibrate, I'll acknowledge my need to remain responsible to my commitments because I know that parenting and teaching well sets a strong foundation for me and those around me in those spheres--it's important to do as well as I can as a teacher and mom because that work matters. I'll also acknowledge and examine my desire to travel, explore, and see the world anew--where is this desire coming from and where is it leading me to. I'm curious about that.

Beginning with parenting, the overarching themes are the same including a welcoming home, regular positive communication, investment in shared good times and valuable goals, and taking care of one another. While these goals require time and commitment, there is not much struggle since the love for my family makes this work natural, positive, and steady.

As for school, the work is a bit less clear since there are multiple perspectives to consider and many goals to examine as I prioritize my efforts. In general though, my priorities here relate to the work I do with and for the grade-level team, math/science education, and the signature projects/special events we plan and foster. This focus takes almost all of my education time throughout the school year.

With regard to education, in general, I have been repeatedly telling the story of one teacher's experience of teaching and school for almost ten years now. I have thousands of posts about all kinds of teaching and learning details. My focus has been three-fold including advocacy for what teachers need to teach well, the recognition and importance of teacher voice/leadership, and the details related to specific learning/teaching successes and struggles. In a large part, my writing has been a way to coach myself and others like me forward with regard to teaching well. This process has taught me a lot, bettered my teaching/learning repertoire, and connected me with wonderful educators throughout the world. I hope that it has helped others too. In the days ahead, I want to think about the evolution of this blog including how to reinvent the blog so that it does serve as a relatable reference for educators--a road map for successful teaching and learning.

Future advocacy related to education will include advocacy for the supports to help families and children thrive. Too many families and children lack the supports needed to live good lives--supports such as adequate housing, nutrition, recreation, health care, and safety don't exist for far too many Americans and people across the globe. I am committed to bettering this situation, but now have to think about how my advocacy can result in change for the better--I have to back up my words with thoughtful efforts that do elevate lives. What will I do? This will be a quest in the days ahead and this will be the focus of any community work I do.

Staying responsible and true to my commitments and values related to family, education, and the community provides a strong foundation for living a good life for myself and others. I believe that this is right and good, but what about my hunger to explore, adventure, and see the world anew--what will I do in this regard?

I am hungry to step into the shoes of many to see the world anew both at home and in places away from here. I imagine that this work will begin with simple explorations in nearby towns and cities, and then with volunteer or paid work in organizations near or far that allow me to meet new people, work alongside them, and journey with them. This is the adventure I seek. Many around me will me to follow their paths, but that's not where my mind or heart is leading me. I don't find fault with their choices, but instead recognize their choices as where their lives are leading them--mine is leading me in a different direction, one that is somewhat known as the words above describe and somewhat a mystery too. The mystery propels reflection, research, and exploration which I always look forward too.

Where is the pandemic response leading you? How will you recalibrate as you respond to that call? What will you do to strengthen the foundation of your life? What will you do to reinvent yourself in ways that are true to who you are? These are great questions to ponder in the days ahead as you move ahead in life despite the struggles the pandemic presents. Onward.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Students' math achievement during remote learning and teaching

It is difficult to accurately assess student learning gains during remote learning and teaching since when students complete their studies at home, we never know if they are completing these assignments on their own or with significant help. We can look for trends, however, via the compilation of their attendance at virtual lessons, completion of study expectations, and the assessments they are taking at home to get an idea of how students are doing.

Recently families received letters about math placement in Middle School. There are three Middle School math groups. An advanced group for students who learn fast and are ahead of curriculum expectations, a middle group for students who are meeting grade-level standards, and a smaller extra-help group for students who need a more tailored, specialized approach to math learning at this time. Of course, many families want to see their children in the advanced group because they feel that is the best group for their child, and placing children becomes difficult especially for those children who fall close to one group or another. What is a teacher to do?

First, we have a fair algorithm that scores each child's work altogether, and that score places a child in one group or another. For children who fall on the line between one group or another, we typically reach out to families and/or colleagues for consult. Then we make our recommendations. If a parent does not agree with the recommendation, they have the opportunity to override the decision. As a parent, I had one child who fell on the line and two that fell solidly in one group or another. In all cases, my sons ended up in groups that were good matches for their abilities. Later I did override a teacher's decision for one of my sons because the information that I knew about my son made me confident that a different group would be better. I was happy that I made the decision and the teacher was respectful.

I will do the same with regard to parents who override the recommendation. I will be respectful knowing that no one system is perfect, yet as our placement letter suggests, our process has proved to be beneficial and by the end of high school almost all the students in our system score in the advanced range in math on the state tests. To a large part this is because students get what they need with regard to math education including size of groups, support, practice opportunities, dedicated teachers, and a solid teaching/learning program throughout the grades.

Going forward, I want to think more about how I will promote apt math teaching and learning throughout the year so that placement recommendations are not a surprise to families. I can do this in the following ways:
  • Make math expectations explicit to students and families at the start of the year.
  • Inform families about the placement process at the start of the school year so that it's not a surprise at the end of the year. 
  • Be clear with students and families about students' test, project, and practice assignment scores, performance, interests, and needs throughout the year. 
  • Make math teaching and learning a priority and stay faithful to the math learning schedule by teaching all standards in deep and meaningful ways that includes plenty of time and practice.
  • Provide both remedial and enrichment opportunities.
Of course this year's remote learning and teaching situation due to the pandemic makes this process more complicated. Some students who were modest students in class are thriving at home due to the significant one-to-one daily support they are getting for math teaching and learning from family members who are home. Others who were doing a good job with school's steady math teaching and learning program are struggling due to inconsistent at-home study schedules, lack of support for multiple reasons, and little attendance at remote teaching meetings. The remote learning/teaching landscape has impacted math performance in many different ways for our students--ways that we will continue to analyze and study in the days ahead.

What we know about teaching math well whether the teaching is virtual or in the school building is that math learning always benefits from well prepared learning experiences, a teacher's expertise with the topic, daily attention via teaching and practice, formative assessments to inform the program, and targeted coaching that includes brain-friendly tools and processes for apt learning. 

The students overall have learned a lot of math this year. They came to fifth grade with solid math skills, concept, and knowledge thanks to the efforts of family members, teachers, tutors, special programs, and more. Students demonstrated terrific growth in fifth grade and are ready for next year's thoughtful math program at the Middle School. I am proud of this effort and will continue to work with colleagues and family members to continue to develop what we can do to help every child achieve in meaningful and beneficial ways. Onward. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Remote teaching and learning after Memorial Day

I will soon close up the virtual teaching and learning shop until after Memorial Day, but before I do, I want to be clear about the expectations and efforts ahead.

Traditional Math Teaching/Learning
Next week marks the end to our traditional math learning and teaching for the year. Students will take a test next Friday to demonstrate their skills and knowledge to date. That test will provide some good, but imperfect, information about the efforts of the past two months. The lessons next week will mostly revolve around geometry.

During the the first two weeks in June students will focus their math learning on STEAM teaching and learning with the Global Cardboard and Recycled Goods Project. That's a fun project that involves lots of creative thinking and problem solving skills. I'm looking forward to leading that project and in preparation, I'll plan the virtual meeting lessons to support the project.

Fifth Grade Fun Week
The final week and remaining days of school will focus on lots of fun events as well as closing projects and meetings. We will incorporate letter writing, share and more.

Traditionally the last few weeks of school each year are celebratory weeks of creative learning and fun. We'll do the same with our remote learning and teaching. Onward.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How lesson planning has changed during the pandemic

I heard colleagues tell school committee members and district leadership about how much time it takes to plan lessons for remote learning and teaching. I was happy to hear them say that because I've experienced the same thing. Every lesson has to be rethought and revised for virtual learning.

For example, today I am teaching small groups of math students geometry. I am attempting to make every lesson an interactive, problem solving lesson that elicits math talk, model making, and knowledge/concept building. Yesterday, I rethought and revised lessons related to quadrilaterals. First, I reviewed the state standards that lie at the foundation of this learning/teaching:

Typically I teach these standards via a number of drawing lessons that I lead from the front of the room, but I don't have that luxury now so instead I considered the many ways I could teach this online. I opted to transfer the lesson to an interactive Google slideshow. To create the slideshow, I made it so that while students discuss the properties of quadrilaterals, I could act as their secretary typing in the the information. Later, students can move each shape into the right circle space in a Venn diagram as one way to classify, compare and contrast the figures. Later, students will have a chance to review the concepts and information on their own via watching a video and practicing drawing the figures online via GeoGebra or by hand. This lesson prep took about two hours by the time I considered how to teach it, created the materials, and linked the activities to the students' learning menu for easy access.

Many teachers are comparing this transition to being a first year teacher again. That's because a first year teacher has to put about an hour to two hours into every lesson and that's what we are doing now as we transfer our teaching to remote learning. For the previous lesson which focused on the properties of lines, I had to spend time researching geometry drawing tools. After searching for a few hours, I found GeoGebra and then I had to learn how to use the great tool. Learning new tools is part of the challenge here too.

I modeled drawing the figure above with GeoGebra as students drew their own similar figures at home. Then we looked for and identified line segments that are parallel, intersecting, and perpendicular. We discussed the fact that learning geometry, in part, is learning to see and discuss what you see. We also discussed the professions that rely on geometry. 

I think that this work we're doing to create a better blended learning environment will serve us well in the long run, but in the meantime, I want to advocate for educators to receive the time they need to make this transition successful. Good teaching will not be a matter of handing educators preprepared lessons, but instead a transition to helping educators develop the skills, knowledge, and mindsets they will need to use the best tools, plan optimal lessons, and teach well via remote learning as well as in real time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Seize the moment with the question: What is successful teaching in any sphere?

As I navigate remote teaching and learning, I am continually aware of successes and challenges. As I experience this continuum, I am always asking myself the question, how can we use what we learn now to improve teaching and learning overall? What can we do as we move towards the end of the year and onto an unpredictable 2020-2021 school year?

Relationships Matter
Good teaching in any sphere depends on good relationships, and teaching in the virtual sphere depends on positive home-school relationships more than ever. How can we start a new school year in ways that develop awesome working relationships amongst and between students, families, educators, other school staff, administrators, and community members? This is a key question.

Care, Team, Protocols, Mission and Goals
Positive working relationships depend on knowing each other, caring for one another, the willingness to work together and help one another, and shared mission and goals. So to build these strong working relationships, we need to begin with the following statements and actions that exemplify those statements.

  1. I care about you? I want to know who you are and how I can best help you as the educator on this team. In the fall we will have to elevate our efforts to know the members of our team well and learn how we can help them best. Before rushing to judgement or putting place strict learning protocols and programs, we have to understand our sense of team and what we need to do to serve each other well. This is the first criteria for school success in any sphere. Getting to know one another in important ways will depend on a list of integral questions including the following:
    1. Who are you? What is your name? How do I say your name? What do you want me to know about you?
    2. What do you desire this year for yourself, your child, your students, your work together as a team?
    3. What do you need to reach your goals this year with regard to technology, other supplies, learning environment, schedules, tech training and more?
    4. What is the best way to communicate with you--texting, email, phone? Do you need an interpreter? Who should receive communications?
  2. We are a team. We will need to think more deeply about how to build a strong sense of team at the start of the year. As we build team, we need to begin with enjoyable, accessible activities and events that welcome all into the team. Then we need to begin thinking about how we work best and what we need to do to build our team to be a strong, collaborative, productive group.
  3. These are our protocols. We have to create a number of protocols to lead our team efforts.
  4. These are our goals and mission. We have to define our goal and mission clearly and revise as needed. 
Successful Learning Experiences
We have to take seriously the opinions and experiences of students, families, and colleagues when it comes to carefully crafting successful learning experiences that work in any sphere. This will require a lot of thinking, assessments, collegial share, reflection, analysis, and revision. We have to see this as schools anew and go forward with a sense of adventure, open mindedness, creativity, and innovation in order to grow what we know as school in creative and dynamic ways.

Collegial Health, Strength, and Success
As educational colleagues we have to work together to set the guidelines for this work. It has to be reasonable, positive, healthy, realistic and forward moving. There is lots to discuss in this regard. 

Anyone who simply sits back and complains during this time is wasting time and potential. Dire circumstances like this give energy to dynamic change and growth if you allow that to happen. Seize the moment. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Virtual Teaching/Learning for the Week Ahead

The banner on top of our teaching/learning menu changes daily to update students, families, and colleagues about learning opportunities, celebratory events, awesome accomplishments, and important events. This helps us to foster an ongoing sense of team and strong teaching/learning relationships. 
This week of virtual teaching/learning will mark a big push with respect to student and teacher accountability and effort. There's a lot of tough teaching to do, but I'll push through.

Optimizing the Schedule
Like a first year teacher, I have to write down the daily schedule so I don't forget any steps. One key to successful online teaching is a good daily schedule. My schedule each day includes the following:

Three - Five approximately 45 minute lessons a day.
Students simply check the meeting schedule, find their names, and
click the links to attend their lessons. 
  • Reviewing the daily menu on the student/teacher learning menu
  • Review each lesson about 20 minutes prior to the lesson
  • Making sure all the tech is working
  • Opening up the lesson document and sliding it to the middle of the screen.
  • Opening up the meeting.
  • Welcoming students to the meeting with friendly questions and conversations. Responding to their general questions and affect.
  • Reminding students that they need paper, pencil, and coloring materials, and also reminding them to pin or spotlight the lesson to make it big on their screen. 
  • Introducing the lesson in an engaging way.
  • Teaching the lesson in an interactive way via multiple questions, activities, and share. 
  • Ending the lesson with students via a summary, next steps, and a time for questioning. 
  • Taking a few minutes after the lesson to reflect with the special educators, teaching assistants, and/or administrators and other educators who joined me for the lesson. 
Grade-Level ELA Meeting: Assist colleagues who lead this approximately 45-minute whole grade-level ELA Meeting

Homeroom Meeting: Greet students and teachers as they enter the virtual meeting room. Lead the meeting with a focus on students' questions and responses.

Biography Research Team Meetings and Individual Coaching: Discuss students' research efforts to date and set up times for individual coaching to help students complete these projects.

Professional Meetings: Engage with colleagues around topics of interest and need related to teaching the students well. 

Reviewing and responding to student learning efforts: Review who has completed the assignments and how they've completed the assignments. Provide feedback to students and family members as needed and beneficial. Analyze student efforts and use that analysis to inform follow-up learning and teaching activities.

Plan future lessons including practice, projects, and problem solving: Plan lessons that respond to what we know about advantageous remote learning and teaching.

Update the learning menu with motivational/celebratory images/quotes, important news, required learning and team efforts, and enrichment opportunities.

Co-write the weekly newsletter and distribute to students, family members and colleagues. 

Biography Research
The fifth grade biography project is a deep and challenging project that requires lots of coaching. I'll get up early tomorrow morning to read my team's research to date and make comments. I suspect that their notes will lead me to needed one-to-one and small group coaching throughout the week to bring them up to speed. This is work that's not as easily done online as in real time, but I'll push forward as I know that the result of this intense coaching will be the growth of great skills and a sense of real pride as students learn.

Geometry Teaching
I'm excited about the geometry lessons ahead. In a sense, teaching geometry at fifth grade is teaching students how to see and discern attributes related to how figures are similar and different. The challenge of these lessons is to reflect at the end of each lesson and update student notes in a way that leads well to the next lesson. Often children that struggle with number sense, are amazing at geometry. That's another reason why I'm looking forward to this shift. After weeks and weeks of number sense focus, it will be a nice change of venue for my young mathematicians.

Social-Emotional Learning and Team Building
We will welcome a Middle School teacher to our homeroom meeting to learn about the transition to Middle School. This will be exciting for the students as we have a great Middle School and they have a lot to look forward to. I will also work with colleagues on a couple of virtual end-of-year celebration efforts as well--efforts that will signify to students that although our celebrations will be different, those celebrations will still occur and provide the warm send-off we typically give to our fifth graders.

Professional Meetings
There are three significant professional meetings this week. The first is our PLC where we will host the Middle School Reading specialist and discuss the children who will be attending that program in the fall. We'll also spend a few minutes discussing and practicing for students' virtual clap-out.

The second meeting is our faculty meeting where more than fifty educators gather to learn about and discuss issues that pertain to the entire staff and school community, and the third is my grade-level colleague meeting when we'll finalize the weekly newsletter and discuss all the issues and efforts that pertain to the grade level learning/teaching community.

Professional Learning
I will explore a new facts software that I heard about. Since some fifth graders still have difficulty learning their facts, I'm interested in how this facts gaming site works and if my students will be motivated by it. I also want to refine the facts game I created and tried out with a small group of students last week to make it a better interactive virtual learning experience for students.

I will also tune into the school committee meeting this week to watch colleagues present their virtual teaching/learning efforts. I'm looking forward to their presentation as well as the questions the school committee asks. It is important that the whole community looks at this situation from multiple perspectives with both an open mind and an eye to the future.

As far as the long term goes, I'll continue to reflect and jot down notes about the best practices, resources, mindsets, and processes that support engaging, meaningful, and results-oriented learning programs that work both in-school and via remote learning and teaching.

It will be an amazingly busy week ahead of teaching and learning--one that will require significant focus and perseverance. I can do it!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Let your remote teaching and learning experience lead your professional learning and development

What we are learning now via remote teaching and learning provides a positive path to professional learning and development.

I built this reflection upon a post I wrote about what we know to be true about successful teaching and learning whether it's in school as we know it or via remote learning and teaching. 

Take some time to consider these questions as you plan for your professional learning efforts ahead.

Relationships Matter
Make time to evaluate your professional relationships with these questions:
  • Do students like and respect me? Why and why not?
  • Do families like and respect me? Why or why not?
  • Do colleagues like and respect me? Why or why not?
  • Do administrators and community members like and respect me? Why or why not?
  • What can I do to boost optimal relationships with all those that I teach and learn with? 

Mission Matters
What mission leads your work now? How can you better that mission statement? What is at the center of the work you do?

I want to work on this myself, but at present my mission statement includes the following priorities:
  • Optimal, positive, and proactive service to students, families, and colleagues
  • Teaching the standards outlined in effective, enriching, engaging, empowering, and meaningful ways.
  • Teaching in ways that promote positive lifelong learning skills, knowledge, concept, and mindsets.
  • Acknowledging and developing every child's sense of worth, strength, and value. Helping children to know themselves well and know how to best develop who they are and what they hope to be as they grow older.
  • Teaching with a sense of humor, levity, enjoyment, and community.
  • Knowing the content that I teach with depth and breadth. 
  • Continually reflecting on my own teaching and learning, and using that reflection to reach out for more and better ways to teach well.

Role Definition Matters
  • What is your current teaching role? 
  • How is that role defined? 
  • What are the priorities related to that role? 
  • What are the supports in place to help you meet the expectations for your role? 
  • How do you advocate for the needs you have related to your role? Do you reach out to system leadership with ideas and questions? Do you work with your local union to better support the needs you have in your role for effective teaching and learning? 
  • How can your role be better defined and supported?
Years ago, I looked deeply at this question, and then with colleagues we proposed a new model for teaching and learning at our grade level. The model has been effective in so many ways. I continue to re-look at my role definition and priorities, and I continue to reach out to colleagues, administrators, and community members to gain the supports I need to better meet my role expectations. I hold to the mantra that ambition must feed mission, and with that, keep mission at the forefront of my work in this regard. 

Service Delivery Expectations: Health and Welfare of Families and Children
  • What services support the work you do?
  • What services do you need to support that work better?
  • How do you advocate for better service delivery to students?
When students obtain the services they need, they thrive. When students do not receive the services they deserve, they suffer. We cannot effectively teach students who are suffering as they are not available for learning. So, how do we make sure that students receive the services they need.

First, we have to focus on school schedules. Whether it is virtual school or school as we know it, schedules have to be created with care to make sure that children receive their service delivery. That means, schedules should be built up from those with greatest needs to those with the fewest needs. Optimal service delivery means that children receive their needed services related to special education, counseling, health, and nutrition.

Next, we have to advocate for apt service delivery for all families and children. When families suffer, children suffer. That's why it is imperative to advocate for all families to have adequate shelter, safe neighborhoods, access to healthy food, positive recreation, and optimal physical and mental health care. Unhealthy, unsupported students are not available for the learning. We live in a country that can do a better job by families and children, and as educators, if we want to do our jobs well, we have to advocate for equity and the welfare for all students and their families.

Best Practices and Resources are Important
  • What teaching/learning practices do you employ that are successful? How do you measure that success?
  • What more do you need to learn and do to improve the way you teach?
  • How do you and your colleagues share ideas and help each other to improve your teaching?
  • What professional learning opportunities are effective and what opportunities are a waste of time?
  • How can you advocate for the best possible professional learning support?
  • Do you have the resources you need to do an effective job? If not, what more do you need to improve what you can do?
I am afraid that too many school systems will simply hire consultants to fill in the gap here, and in doing that, they'll waste a lot of money and time. Too often, systems turn to consultants for professional learning because it is cheap and easy. Further, if you hire a consultant and they do a poor job, then you can blame the consultant which takes ownership off of your shoulder. That said, in some cases, consultants play a valuable, beneficial role. 

Really good professional learning begins with educators, students, and families' questions, needs, and interests. Really good professional learning begins with a measured analysis of what is working and what is not working on multiple levels. 

For example, my primary question at this time is how can I effectively teach math better whether it is virtually or in the school building. I know that I need to learn the following to do a better job:
  • Continue to develop students' growth mindsets, brain knowledge, and interest related to math learning. Reading Boaler's book, Limitless Mind, and applying that knowledge to math teaching and learning will, in part, lead me in this direction.
  • Continue to look deeply at how I teach each unit and refine those units by thinking deeply about the logical roll-out of the concepts, model making, materials I use (projects, practice, problems) and assessments. I have a lot in place in this regard, but the key is to finesse these units so that the learning is meaningful, engaging, and successful. 
  • Continue to think deeply about the children most challenged with math learning expectations and work with special educators, guidance, families and others to look for ways to best teach these students for success.
  • Continue to hone my online teaching repertoire so that the lessons are meaningful, understandable, and memorable. 
  • Think deeply about the needed repetitions of instruction and types of groups in-class and virtually that promote the best possible math teaching and learning. 
My secondary focus is growing the science teaching/learning program in meaningful ways. I suspect that we'll take what we have and finesse the program in place for a blended online and offline roll-out in the fall. The first steps here are to review what we've done with a fresh mind this summer and work with colleagues to set the course for the year ahead. 

The final goal is to think about what students will be like in the fall after this learn-at-home period. Already, I know that we will have to spend the first few weeks building team and getting to know the students well. This will take time and creativity whether we are at school or in the virtual sphere. Knowing that a strong team sets the stage for optimal education we will give team building the time it deserves at the beginning of next year following an updated, modern interpretation of Ruth Charney's great book, Teaching Children to Care which includes taking the first six weeks to build a strong teaching/learning community. We will have to reconsider the role of families with regard to this team building too since families are playing a great role when it comes to remote learning and teaching. 

Process Matters Too
I want to be very mindful of the processes used as we transition to the end of the year and into next year. I will speak up if I feel that processes have been promoted without depth or breadth. I will advocate for teachers to be at the center of process development because any decisions made without teacher input will not be as valuable or positive for the teaching/learning going forward. I will also advocate that we hear from families, community members, and students too--good process is built from the perspectives and experiences of all teaching/learning team members including students, families, educators, staff members, administrators, and community members. It will be best to prioritize around these processes by choosing to tackle the most important decisions first beginning with safety, then relationships, and quality education after that.

This time-at-home is an important time to consider your teaching career and professional learning needs. Good reflection now will benefit you and your students for years to come. Make time for this.

Teaching/Learning: Revision of the Long View

With lots of unknowns with regard to the months ahead related to teaching and learning, I want to focus on what I do know today--aspects of teaching and learning that won't change no matter what happens in the fall.

Relationships Matter
Awesome teaching and learning depends on strong relationships within and amongst all members of the learning team including families, students, educators, administrators, and community members. Whatever we can do to make relationships strong, meaningful, purposeful, and transparent, the better. In some cases, this quick transition to remote teaching and learning has strengthened relationships, and in other cases, this transition has compromised relationships.

When compromised, it seems that information wasn't transparent or readily available, expectations were unrealistic or unsupported, and roles were undefined and confusing. This speaks to the need for school systems to be transparent, realistic, and clear about needed information, expectations, and roles.

Strong teams that grew stronger during this time clearly demonstrated the fact that we need each other, and when we work together we are better. These strong teams had a history of working well together for common goals and mission. There was a strong foundation of good communication, readily available, transparent information, and a collaborative mindset and history in place. The pandemic has clearly emphasized the need for strong relationships and strong teams when it comes to optimal teaching and learning.

Mission Matters
At the foundation of exemplary teaching and learning there needs to be a strong sense of mission. This mission brings us together as a learning community of families, students, educators, administrators, and community members. I think it is important for all to rethink mission statements this summer--we've learned a lot in the past few weeks and we'll likely want to rethink our mission statements in some ways as we move forward.

Role Definition Matters
It is also time to rethink roles in the school community. Clearly some roles have been pivotal during this learn-at-home time and some roles less impactful. The same goes for our role definitions and expectations--in some cases, the role definitions and expectations need to change. For example, teaching assistants have played a critical role with regard to carrying out optimal virtual teaching lessons. This has been a new role for them, and one that needs to be added to their repertoire with regard to professional expectations as well as training. The same is true for all classroom teachers--we've never had to teach virtually like this before, and now it's a mainstay. We will need to gain more training and better definition around this expectation. Roles have changed for leadership too--what is the right way to lead so many satellite campuses as teachers work from home to teach students in all kinds of settings. And, of course, the roles for parents who support their young learners have changed too. How will we redefine roles for optimal teaching and learning across all the various work that is done in schools--what needs to change?

Service Delivery Expectations: Health and Welfare of Families and Children
We may also want to revisit service delivery. For example, teaching online with special educators has been truly enriching for me. To work together to try to make lessons meaningful for children with Individualized Expectation Plans has been challenging, yet the conversations that have resulted in this work has helped to grow our collective repertoire with respect to meeting these children's needs. This teach-at-home time has demonstrated to me that the collaboration of special education and regular education is a sweet spot for growing teaching and learning in positive ways--the challenge is how do we foster the best possible collaboration. What works and what doesn't work?

Service delivery related to school lunches has made me ponder the relationships between schools and social service agencies. Families' needs for day care, and the plight a pandemic has had on children's health has made me think that rather than "school" perhaps we should build family/child support agencies that include health care, education, and social services under one umbrella with the goal being holistic support and services for the general well being, today and into the future, for families and children. I think that there can be some systematic changes in this regard to better serve the health and welfare of families in every community. Change in this area could result in very positive effects going forward.

Best Practices are Important
There are a number of best practices that translate from school as we know it to virtual school. We need to identify and embrace those practices. There are other practices that are simply best at real school or at virtual school--those practices are important to identify too. As I teach, I am constantly thinking about what makes the teaching/learning engaging, motivating, meaningful, and successful? When students continue the learning on their own without prodding and with enthusiasm, I know that a lesson has succeeded since, after all, our overarching goal is to promote successful lifelong learning. As we think about best practices, we need to think about how we assess success--what do we look for with regard to success and how do we quantify or describe that. These accountability measures do matter because we want to provide every child with the best possible education--an education that empowers and enriches their lives today and into the future.

Process Matters Too
How we share information, how we communicate, and how we make decisions all matter. The processes we use to teach well together and continually evolve as effective school systems are critical to good, positive, proactive effort and growth. We all have to re-look at the processes we use in our multiple system teams to make sure that we are using processes that are effective, growth producing, and forward moving, rather than processes that oppress, belittle, stay stagnant, or, in the worst, case move us backwards rather than forward. It is time to reevaluate the systems we use in schools for effective education at all levels. We can see this process re-evaluation as a positive outcome of a challenging time.

I will take these areas of note and think about each of them via the lens of my own work in the next post. I think these are important elements to think deeply about as we move ahead in education in following days, weeks, and months.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Remote Teaching Ascent

I use mountain metaphors a lot since I climbed a fair amount of mountains throughout my life and have found mountains to be a terrific metaphor for life.

This transition to remote teaching and learning has been similar to hiking a mountain range. There are peaks and valleys that all relate to the same goal of teaching children well.

On the good days, I feel great, but on the not so good days, I learn more.

What have I learned so far?

Preparation is Key
At school we have a whole room of teaching supplies and resources to use to make lessons meaningful, engaging, and successful. At home, we have many tools available via the Internet, but, to a great degree, we haven't used or explored those tools much. There is a great learning curve here.

The better we choose the lesson content and teaching/learning tools, the more effective and engaging the lesson will be. In general, I find that content that elicits discussion, debate, problem solving, collaboration, and skill, concept, and knowledge building to be best.

The best tools are engaging tools that keep the students' attention, help them to share their thinking, creativity, and problem solving, and create a file that children can look back to when needed for the follow-up practice and projects. So far I've found that interactive documents, spreadsheets, games, and presentations as well as many Google tools such as the table tool and drawing/painting tools have been helpful. I have many more tools to explore with the goal of making the lessons more interactive and effective in mind.

Predictable Lesson Routine is Advantageous
Just like in the classroom, a predictable routine saves time for the deeper, more meaningful parts of the lesson. That routine seems to work well with the following components:
  • Greeting and some time for chatting and welcoming the group to the meeting
  • Introduction that is engaging and somewhat provocative to gain their attention (open up their brains to new and interesting learning)
  • Interactive lessons that focus on more of them and less of us (the teachers) -- they should be doing the work, talking the talk, asking the questions, providing the ideas and more. 
  • Time to summarize the lesson and share final thoughts and questions as well as words about what is coming next. 
Follow-Up Review, Practice, and Projects
After the lessons, there should be an opportunity for students' to grapple with the knowledge, concept, and skill in engaging, memorable projects, practice and review. 

Teacher Coaching, Review, and Feedback
Teachers need to determine the best ways to review and monitor students' study efforts and respond to that review with coaching comments, feedback and motivation. 

Professional Reflection and Learning
There needs to be time to reflect on efforts to date and take part in learning to continually build your repertoire to better meet students needs. 

Similar to the tired legs you get when you hike the mountains, I'm finding that my fingers, arms, and shoulders are feeling the physical burden of this sudden shift to so much online learning. This means I'll have to mix up the lessons too to keep my fingers strong for the online work.

When climbing mountains, the joy is the camaraderie you experience as well as the vistas along the way and at the summit. The beauty of the online learning is the children you teach, colleagues you work with, and the moments of joyful learning and exchange you experience. Now it's time to rest for the weekend before I head into the mountain range of remote teaching and learning again. 

Predictions for School Year 2020-2021 Are Daunting

I just read several projections related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as so many know, those predictions are daunting.

The only answer I can think of with regard to this situation is to create safe zones for your own life and the lives of those you love. We're all going to have to make some tough decisions about our lives going forward--what will we do and how will we do it? What chances will we take and what chances won't we take?

What about school?
The first priority is to keep children and families safe. I'm not sure how we'll do this with school as we know it. To prepare, however, I'll put together plans that will meet learning both for real time interactions and for online learning. I'll be ready to be flexible in order to support the young learners and their families.

What about family?
I want to talk seriously to my elderly parents about this and find out what they want going forward. We could all be tested and they could move in with us, or if they choose, they may have to ride it out in their own home. As for my own children if and when they visit, it would be great if we could all be tested to see if anyone has or has had the illness--that will help us make safe and healthy decisions.

What about entertainment?
I think that we're all going through withdrawal right now. There's so much that we enjoy doing that we cannot do at this time for fear of this highly contagious illness. There's lots that we can still do such as go for hikes, watch movies, read books, take a drive, and visit with friends in socially distanced ways outdoors. None of us will be getting together in tight spaces for a while which rules out many of the enjoyable events we've done in the past.

What about community needs?
First, we can't have people go without food or adequate shelter. That's a number one priority. We also have to take care of people's mental health as well. There needs to be positive ways to take care of children, the elderly, the vulnerable, and the rest of us.

No one would choose this event, and few of us have found peace with it. We have to be appreciative of all the scientists, doctors, and leaders who are working around the clock to research, care for the sick, and find a cure or, at least, something to mitigate the devastating worldwide affect this virus is having on people. While we wait for this resolve, we simply have to be smart and patient.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Remote Teaching and Learning: Restructuring Roles and Responsibilities?

As I embark on month three of remote teaching and learning, I am aware of a need to re-look at roles and responsibilities in the school sphere. I'm sure I'm not the only educator thinking about this. As I think about it, I am thinking about who is doing what and what roles support students, educators, and families best.

Leader and Cheerleader
Some leaders have been amazing cheerleaders during this time. They take your questions seriously, support your needs, and challenge you with positivity. These leaders have been so important during this time--they help to keep you in the game of teaching well as well as improving and developing your repertoire of teaching/learning skills and knowledge. We need leaders who are good cheerleaders, leaders who have the big picture and can prioritize what's important and how to motivate and lead in that direction.

Tech Support
The move to virtual school has meant that we are all relying on the tech department more than ever. I think this move begs us to think deeply about how to re-think tech support departments and personnel in schools. Clearly we will continue to need tremendous tech support in all kinds of ways--what does this mean for staffing, professional learning, and purchasing going forward?

In some cases, we may find that there are too many consultants and not enough teachers. I  have always felt that schools have to be careful about not hiring too many people who don't directly serve children--we need most people in schools to work directly with children. For the most part, if you don't have that direct interaction with children or families, you quickly lose sight of what is most important.

All Hands on Deck
To divide and conquer and spread the responsibility for direct coaching for students with most personnel is critical at this time. Again, most roles in schools should directly serve students. When you have a staff of dedicated professional educators, you don't need lots of middle managers to tell them what to do.

Our librarian has played a critical role during this time. Like tech support, her ability to lead us to great and trusted resources online has been invaluable. This move to remote learning has accentuated the need for skilled, dedicated librarians in every school.

Inspiring, Organized Leaders
We have some amazing inspiring and organized leaders who have made the move to remote school about as good as it gets given the situation. This is positive.

Teaching Teams
Teamwork has been similarly necessary during this time. There's no way we could do what we are doing without working together with the focus on what's best for our students. Schools need to work to foster more and greater teamwork. It's a good time to re-look at stand-alone positions and figure out how to make those positions more team-oriented. A strong team like a strong culture is better suited to flexibly and positively respond to challenging situations.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Virtual Teaching and Learning --Who is doing it right?

With virtual teaching and learning, there are a lot of cooks stirring the broth which begs the question who is doing it right?

The overall answer is no one and everyone at the same time.

As teachers everywhere navigate these new paths of remote learning and teaching, I believe we're all finding methods that work as well as methods that require revision.

Just like school as we know it, there's no one-size-fits-all or "just right." Instead there are many trends and overarching priorities that seem better than others.

What are those trends and priorities?

What works?

Good Relationships
As in any successful teaching and learning situation, relationships matter. A positive relationship with those you teach and those you teach with matters the most. This relationship is the glue that brings the learning team of families, students, teachers, administrators, and community members together in positive ways.

Common Overarching Mission
I think it's important to revisit missions during this time and tweak those missions to include what works best in real time and online. As a learning community, we need to have a common overarching mission.

Realistic, Common Loose-Tight Parameters
We need to decide on what the common parameters and boundaries are for the work we do. Similar to parents, teaching is a limitless job, and to do any limitless job well, you have to set parameters related to hours in a day, time for face-to-face instruction, time for planning, reflection, and review, time for professional learning, and time for collaboration. These parameters provide structure to our days and a loose-tight path to successfully meeting our mission.

Room for Error
As with any new endeavor, we have to be prepared for error. We will make mistakes. With that knowledge, we need to create some rules to guide our work so that the errors are not grievous. For example, we have a protocol of two professionals on every virtual meeting. I think that's a wise protocol for virtual teaching and learning with young children. Rather than strike out at one another when errors are made, we need to use those errors as stepping stones to doing the work better. We have to be forgiving and helpful to one another.

Good work in schools depends on strong teams. The better we can identify teams and work as teams the better we will be able to support the students and families we serve.

Engaging, Meaningful Learning
Even more than in school as we know it, online learning has to be meaningful and engaging. If it's not interesting, guess what? Children simply won't show up. In that regard, we have to try out lots of different ways to engage, empower, and make the learning meaningful for children.

We need to have some expectations and accountability. There needs to be some baseline with regard to showing up, engaging in the learning, asking questions, advocating for one's self, and getting the support you need. Just exactly how we put those accountability measures in place is something I'm thinking about. Right now, I check to see who is doing the assignments and who is not. I alert families of students who are not keeping up and ask how I can help. I reach out to guidance and school administrators related to students who are not showing up at all to make sure they are safe and that we are helping them in ways that we can. I also tweak lessons and create new learning opportunities when I notice that a child hasn't grasped the skill, concept, or knowledge. I'm sure we'll have more to do in this regard as virtual school moves forward.

We've catapulted into the virtual sphere across the world when it comes to teaching and learning. Before this, we fell all along the continuum when it came to this endeavor. No doubt, this will impact schools, teaching, and learning in a large way going forward. I hope this event also positively impacts the way we help and strengthen communities in ways that elevate what we can do to promote strong, positive family and child respect, care, and supports. Strong communities and strong families support strong schools and visa versa. That to me is the positive challenge of this life changing pandemic event.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lessons from Remote Learning

As we engage in remote learning, there are lots of lessons to learn. I want to apply these lessons as we move ahead into 2020-2021 with flexibility and an open mind to what might be expected.

Explicit Teaching Matters
Most students simply don't understand how to do something without explicit practice and coaching. For example, I've noticed that some children did not really understand how to use the learning menus we have been using all year at school, but now that use of those menus is critical, it's clear that I could have done a better job explicitly teaching how to use those menus so that all children understood. Those that struggle definitely needed more time to practice and more coaching. I want to remember this as we embark on the use of those menus with new classes. The lesson for the year ahead is to move forward slowly with more explicit, step-by-step practice with an eye on the learning skills and attitudes we want to foster as well as the strong working relationships we want to build. 

Responsibility Matters
Students who were somewhat irresponsible when it came to having their supplies, completing their homework, and showing up for class on time are doing the same with online learning. In school, it was a bit easier to ignore that behavior, but with online learning this behavior is much more of a problem. This demonstrates to me that it's best to notice and work on irresponsibility right away--don't just let it continue. There are all kinds of positive ways to support and coach student responsibility and that coaching is integral to student success. Thinking about next year, it will be very important to convey upfront what it means to be a responsible student with regard to both virtual learning and real-time learning. We will have to prioritize what it looks like to be prepare for lessons, be on time, participate, advocate and practice. 

Deal with Issues Sooner than Later with the Whole Team
As in the two previous descriptions, issues that weren't as worrisome in real time are exaggerated during virtual school. Families who don't respond were worrisome at school, but even more worrisome during virtual teaching because we don't have the student contact. The same is true for student issues that you may have been worried about, but now seem greater since you can't provide the daily real-time interventions that seemed to be helping out. In some cases, I wish I had dealt with some of these issues in a bigger way when we were in real time school since I see how these issues are more problematic in challenging situations like this at-home learning time. With the future in mind, I believe we have to be more proactive about issues such as these. For example, we have to anticipate that some families may need greater support with child care, parent coaching, food access, and tech support. Rather than wait until these issues become a problem, preparing resource and support lists, sharing expectations for the year ahead, and establishing strong family-school teamwork from the start of the year will be essential. 

Always Think About What Works Best
In some cases, the at-home learning has been advantageous to students. Some who were challenged by small, crowded, noisy classrooms seem more relaxed and happy learning at home. Others who were always waiting their turn as quicker, more boisterous students spoke, now are getting more words in due to the virtual learning routines. The math talk, in some cases is deeper and more targeted, given the way virtual teaching conversations occur. I want to think about these positives too and how we might integrate them into real time school. Starting the year with an explicit focus on the primary skills, attitudes, expectations, and relationship building will be essential next year. Then once we spend the first six weeks focused on that learning, we can branch out to personalize the schedule more to meet the many varied needs and interests of the students at our grade-level.

Collaboration and Consideration are Essential
Starting with the essential components of the schedule, we will have to work together first to create a schedule. Aspects of the schedule that may work best include the following:
  • Set times for faculty meetings, PLCs and student service meetings first.
  • Teams work to set times for the kind of schedule they'll need to serve the needs of all students well. This schedule, coordinated with special educators, will include finding the right mix of grade-level meetings, homeroom meetings, small group teaching, and coaching sessions. 
  • The roll-out of the curriculum will need to be planned perhaps front-loading the fall with the kinds of learning that can easily be done in a mix of at-home and at-school learning.
Realistic Expectations
My at-home learning/teaching schedule right now is a bit too intense and choppy. Thinking ahead, I want to think with colleagues about what the right mix of online student/colleague meetings, at-home practice, time for prep and student study review, and professional learning will be. If you make a schedule that's too intense, you'll burn out quickly, but if you make a schedule that's too sparse, you won't be meeting the needs and potential students hold for wonderful learning. 

Best Practices
I also want to think about best practices. As my colleagues and I forward many lessons, clearly some work better than others. Some aspects of online/real time teaching success include the following:
  • Student at-home/in-school work station with markers, pencils, paper, a computer, headphones
  • Teacher at-home/in-school work station with teaching materials, paper/pencil, tech tools, and more.
  • Consistent, predictable weekly routine so students, families, and educators know what to expect.
  • Consistent, predictable lesson routine including preparing, greeting, lesson introduction (make it sticky), discussion, practice, share. 
  • Patterns for student practice whether it be at-home or in-school.
  • Patterns for student study review and response. Feedback is essential to sustaining student motivation and development.
  • Focus on units of study with varied learning experiences including online, offline, hands-on, paper/pencil, video, reading, collaboration, games, and more. 
  • Setting goals that are motivating such as project celebrations, project share, environmental/community positive impact. . . . .
  • Patterns, protocols for family-school connections--protocols that create strong ties yet set good boundaries work best
  • Working as teams to maximize team members' strengths and needs.
There's always lessons to learn, and these are a few of the lessons to learn from remote learning. I'm sure that in time, I'll add more to this list.