Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The humility, discomfort, and challenge of unknowing

Knowing sits on a scale.

No one is without knowledge and no one has all knowledge.

And with every topic, we sit at a different place when it comes to knowing and unknowing.

When we begin any journey to obtain knowledge, there is great humility, discomfort, and challenge.

That humility, discomfort, and challenge is elevated when a learning topic is difficult for us to grasp.

I remember sitting at a student-parent-teacher conference once when a child simply broke down in tears as she discussed the great challenge learning to read was for her. Since I've embarked on difficult learning journeys in life, I could empathize with her pain. Fortunately, both school and family were able to support this young child well, and her progress continues to be steady and positive.

Tonight, I am embarking on the White Fragility book chat learning curve. I will tell you that I am uncomfortable, challenged, and humbled by this learning curve for many, many reasons, yet my will to learn more and do more with regard to ending the disastrous effects of racism that exists in our society is greater.

So I begin the journey with humility, discomfort, challenge, and a great desire to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Onward.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

White Fragility Book Chats

7/1 Update: The Virtual book chat was wonderful--women from many locales, jobs, lifestyles joined and began to discuss this book. I look forward to this continued share. I decided not to run the Twitter chat for a number of reasons at this time. 

The words "Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk" rang in my mind as I reacted to George Floyd's murder. I cannot sit idly by and watch inequity occur right before my eyes day after day without doing something about it. That's why I'm hosting three book chats related to the well regarded anti-racist book, White Fragility. This book has been recommended to me from many who I highly regard. The book has also been recommended by respectable news outlets including this article in the New Yorker. 

I am hosting three chats. One is a weekly Tuesday night Google Meet for a small group of interested colleagues and friends, another is a Google slide share where people can simply write their thoughts when they have time, and the third is a Wednesday night Twitter chat at #WhiteFragilityTC at 8 p.m. For each chat, I'll list the questions on Sunday, and then meet according to our schedule.

I read a great quote posted by one of my favorite thought leaders, David Culberhouse, today:
I want to ponder the difference between clarity and certainty. Having read Culberhouse's tweets over a long time now, I know he is continually focused on the ways we need to think and act and the processes we use, rather than the specific acts, decisions, plans. His work focuses on our ever changing world and our need to be able to navigate this with good flexibility and clear mindsets. His work is deep, and I still need to reach to embrace it, but I know that he is on the right path when it comes to how to live in today's world. 

So as I think about these White Fragility book groups, I am thinking of the answers to the questions we'll discuss.

Response to Question One
I am a woman, parent, teacher, wife, neighbor, community member, citizen of the United States, and member of the world community. I strongly believe that when we all have the opportunity to live good, happy lives, everyone is stronger and happier. I don't want to live in a world that leaves some behind and out of the equation of good living. I want to live in a world where we continually work to elevate the lives of all. I want to be a force that helps to forward good living, not hold it back. I know that my White upbringing included racism. I know that the communities I have belonged to and still belong to have racist roots. I want to work against that in myself and in the groups I belong to and work in.

Response to Question Two
I hope to be a better parent, community member, political advocate, and public school teacher. I hope to be able to advocate, make choices, and live in all arenas of my life with greater equity, outreach, and ability to help others in positive ways. I don't like the inequity, lack of opportunity, oppression, and brutality that I witness in real time and via reading and research. I know that a well supported, educated, healthy populous is more apt to be peaceful, happy, and positive. I want that.

Response to Question Three
I plan to read along with the book groups--a few chapters each week. I plan to record my ideas in writing and perhaps, share those thoughts on my blog. I know that this book will be challenging, and I want to take that challenge seriously with the hopes that it will elevate the way I live for myself and others in the days ahead. 

Whenever I embark on a journey like this, I am always curious about where it will take me and how it will affect the work I do.  I wonder what I'll be like on August 5th when this book chat concludes? What changes will reading this book and interacting with these book groups bring to my life? Time will tell? 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Child Warehouse or School?

I ended school on Wednesday optimistic about the fall, while not ideal, rumors I heard about how our school system would handle the limitations next fall seemed doable and still within the realm of good teaching and learning, but then yesterday as I heard a number of people discuss the state's mandates for the fall, I began to worry. My worries grew last night in my dreams with the realization that many at the state level who spoke about children yesterday thought of them as lifeless objects, not active, emotional, spirited beings who move, interact, play and require special attention. You can't humanely warehouse children. That's a frightening notion, and one that the corrupt Trump team has heinously used at the border.

So what's a teacher to do?

First, I need to speak up. I believe the state has put educators and school systems in a tough place with their relaxed guidelines because it seems that they have set the stage for warehousing rather than teaching children--this is not good, and this will exasperate economic divide and inequity. Wealthy parents won't stand for warehousing, while families who don't have the means will have to put up with that. Yet, most children, no matter who they are or what they come from, won't peacefully stand for a warehousing situation in 2020--they know too much about what can be, and it's unlikely that they'll stay in one room all day at 3 feet apart with a teacher at the front of the room teaching--that old time education doesn't work anymore.

So what can we do at this time--how can we teach students in schools that are not made for 3-feet distance and lack of collaboration?

One idea is half days. Half of the students come in the morning and half of the students come in the afternoon. This would heighten transportation costs, but we could reasonably teach this way. If we instituted half days, I could imagine one group coming from 8-11 and the other group coming from 12:30-3:30. Students would be expected to complete the second half of their school day remotely. This would challenge work schedules, child care, and teachers' contracts, but it would allow every child to attend school every day. For some children, due to special circumstances, they would be able to attend the school all day.

Another idea is the one week on and one week off schedule. I think that this schedule holds promise because there could be a remote staff and an in-school staff. This would be doable with regard to space considerations and offer students a positive week in school and positive virtual week. Of course this would challenge work schedules, but perhaps, extended families and work places could make this possible.

I don't think it's a good idea to stuff children in a building simply so that parents can work--children will not learn well in a warehouse situation, they will act up. Instead I believe that everyone in the state has to work to provide students with a child-friendly, safe, and worthy experience in the fall--one that takes into account the active, lively beings that children are. That means that businesses, extended families, and communities will have to help out too with more flexibility with work schedules, use of public buildings, and child care support.

We can do this well, we don't have to settle for a situation that puts children and teachers in an unrealistic, unfriendly, unhealthy warehouse environment--we can create a school that responds well to the situation that exists.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Response to Fall State Guidelines

My response to the Fall State Guidelines for schools are the following:

The state has done a good job so far
Massachusetts officials have done a good job so far. I value that.

We have many avenues for voice and choice
There are many leadership groups involved in this. So far the school system I work in and my local union has taken the pandemic seriously. There has been a lot of good work done. The good work by these groups and the state so far make me confident.

I will learn all I can and respond accordingly as a classroom teacher
As a classroom teacher I will do what I can to keep the learning/teaching healthy and positive including the following steps:
  • Wearing a mask each day
  • Planning to focus on curriculum that lends itself to socially distancing and safe learning at the start of the year
  • Teaching students all the blended learning skills at the start of the year so that they are able to flexibly learn in both at-home and in-school settings
  • Having plenty of hand sanitizer and hand washing times throughout the day
  • Wearing clothes that cover up and glasses -- that will help with regard to less spread
  • Teaching outdoors as much as possible
  • Working with colleagues to teach in ways that are safe and engaging
  • Using my sick time when needed
  • Working with families and colleagues
  • Advocating for virtual meetings with families and teachers when possible rather than face-to-face meetings
Elevating good health this summer
Using the summer to stay healthy and get healthier. I'm taking a managed risk outlook toward the summer. I don't want to get sick, and in fact, I want to get healthier. The healthier I am in the fall, the better I'll be able to do my job in healthy, positive ways.

Mitigating negativity and elevating voice, good process, and advocacy
Rather than get mired in negativity at this time, I'll rely on good process, voice, and advocacy at this time. We need to speak up if the situation is a health risk. We also need to speak up if we have better ideas. So I'll choice voice, advocacy, and good process over  negativity. 

Final Years of Teaching

I will retire from daily teaching in two years. It is amazing to think about the end of a career that I've devoted my life to for 34 years so far. Fortunately, the last few years have been the very best years of my teaching career--I work with a dynamic team of teachers in a top-notch school with fair, intelligent leadership at the school, system, union, and state levels. Together, we are doing a great job--this is exactly how I want to end my career.

With two years left, I want to focus in mostly on my students, their families, and my grade-level team. I'll express my thoughts about greater school, system, state, and national issues and work for positive change where needed, but, in general, most of my time will be spent caring for and teaching the children within my charge.

Years ago, a colleague retired with grace. That colleague did just what I hope to do--she focused on ending her career with her best possible service to students and grade-level colleagues, and then when she retired, she embraced interests and work in other areas of life. That's what I hope to do. I think I'll make the first few months of my retirement simply time to catch up on a number of life's chores and events that are difficult to keep up with while working full time, and then I'll likely find a way to work with individual or small groups of children in need. I truly love helping out children in need and imagine myself working in a homeless shelter or social need agency in that capacity part time. I like helping children in need because I know that if these children get the help they need, they will understand that they can build good lives for themselves and their loved ones later on.

Having a good focus for where you are at in your career is essential. Years ago, my focus was directed towards lots of professional learning and focus on changing many of the structures, tools, and practices we used at school. I wanted school to look a lot more like it looks today than the old ways. Many good changes have occurred and this has made my final years of teaching so much better. I am happy about this. Now it's time to stay the course set and do the best I can. Onward.

Summer Start 2020

I always feel like the end-of-the-school year is like driving down the highway in a big truck at full speed and then pressing on the brakes. The change from school to no-school is dramatic. It is like going from 1,000 to 5 with regard to focus areas, obligations, and events.

So this morning, on this first day of summer, I'm thinking about those five focus areas, areas which include a focus on health goals, research, household projects, family support/fun, and outdoor exploration.

Health is a the first priority
Health is the first priority. If I want to teach well, I have to have be healthy and have good energy. While a healthy routine is a priority during school days, it is the focus on the school to-do list rather than your health. This is true for most people in health professions and it is often true for parents of young children. Our jobs are demanding and sometimes our health may suffer because of that. So summer is a good time to focus on health. And health is particularly important this year as everyone tries to avoid the COVID-19 virus.

Professional learning matters
To keep teaching meaningful and successful you have to continue learning. It's best to think about where you need and want to improve the work you do. For me, I'm focusing this summer's research on anti-racist teaching/learning efforts and deeper, better math education efforts. I am reading two well regarded books, running a couple of book clubs, and will update school efforts based on what I learn in those books. I also plan to engage with a number of tech venues to update my ability to use those tools and then to include those tools in teaching plans for 2020-2021. Those tools include screencastify, Google classroom, Geogebra, STMath, Youtube, WeVideo, and Khan Academy.

Family Support and Fun
There are a number of family matters that I put on hold during the final weeks of school. I'll focus on those matters this summer too. These matters included budgets, family celebrations, household updates, and get togethers that respond to social distancing recommendations so that we stay healthy.

Nature Exploration
I hope to explore a large number of natural areas this summer--places in nature mostly in the local environment.

I welcome this summer reprieve and I know that by the time it comes to an end, I'll be ready to get back to school whether it is virtual or in real time to teach again. Onward.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Year's End and Next Year

The drop-in meeting, parent-created slideshow of students' elementary years, and the virtual clap-out created a celebratory ending to the school year. As I've noted before, it was a great year overall despite a number of unexpected events including the pandemic.

What will the months ahead bring?

July: Professional Learning: White Fragility and Limitless Mind book groups

August: Collegial meetings and preparation for the year ahead

September Focus:

  • Safety
  • Relationship Building
  • An engaging, meaningful, student-centered teaching/learning program

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Last Day

Many of us, both teachers and students, had the jitters when it came to Move-Up Day. There's always a bit of anxiousness involved in new starts. Yet thanks to a highly organized administrative team, a good collegial group, thoughtful parents, and eager students the Move-Up events went well. I had the chance to see all the new fifth graders and meet my homeroom students. Each child told me about a significant learning event in their life with enthusiasm. I know we'll have a good year next year.

After that I met with this year's homeroom to share a good song, pictures of the year's highlights and memories. The children displayed a range of emotion. I don't know why, but I expected everyone to be happy, but of course, it's the end of the year, and just like beginnings, people face endings with a range of emotions too. I should have anticipated that. I kept it positive, but felt my own range of emotions afterwards. In talking with colleagues, it became clear that these emotions are natural particularly this year when we all faced the limitations presented by a pandemic. We worked extra hard to revise the program, keep it strong, and work closely with all stakeholders to nurture the children. We can be proud of this. Yet, nevertheless, we all experienced some loss this spring--loss of plans we looked forward to, loss of traditions, and for some, loss of family members and friends too.

Later in the day, I received a few thank you notes that I truly appreciated. End-of-school-years are emotional events even in the most predictable years. A few years ago, I described it like this:
Tomorrow with good words, time for questions and share, a wonderful slideshow of the children's experiences at elementary school crafted by a parent, and a celebratory virtual clap-out we'll say our end-of-the-year good byes and welcome summer vacation. I'll likely take a week or so to simply relax and then begin a new chapter. Onward.

Educator: Friend or Teacher?

Is a good educator your friend or teacher?

Ideally, a good educator is both, but it may not always be easy to strike the balance.

As I think about this question, I am first thinking about our mission as educators? What is it that we are really trying to do? Are we helping students to push ahead and meet their potential or are we satisfied to focus mostly on their comfort level? Of course, good learning demands that children are comfortable, happy, and included, and good education also expects us to create opportunities for productive struggle, facing challenging questions, and learning important information, concepts, and skill.

Moving ahead in the education sphere, I want to think about the following questions with sincere attention and effort next year.

Who are you?
The more I understand my students' needs and interests--the better I can teach them.

How does our classroom work?
The better I work with students to create a good class culture complete with shared protocols, goals, and endeavor, the better. The classroom belongs to all of us?

What are our teaching/learning goals?
The more that the goals are transparent and each child understands their path and progress towards those goals the better. It is important for families and students to understand why particular goals are prioritized.

Everyone has a leadership role?
It is vital to find opportunities for every child to lead in some way. It is critical to give every child a chance to get some special recognition and attention.

What is hindering a best possible learning situation, and how can remedy that?
It is best to work at problems when they are small, and work together with teachers, students, and families to solve those problems.

High Priority: Building Community

A few children were impolite during a final meeting of the school year. I must say after what I believe was a wonderful year full of lots and lots of special activities and attention, I was disappointed. Yet, I know the misbehavior could have been the result of any of a large range of feelings including the fact that it's tough to say good-bye or the fact that the person may not have felt like a big part of the team or that the child may not have experienced the success during the year he hoped for or the loss associated with pandemic limitations. Whatever the case, and even though it was disappointing, that happens at the end of the year for a number of reasons, and is a good reminder that community building is essential throughout the school year.

The theme of our team is the "Everyone is Welcome Here" and the aim is to help every child feel like a valuable part of the team, and for every child to have a successful experience. What would have improved this situation?

Listen Carefully
We receive information about the children coming to our team early in the year. It is vital to pay close attention to that information in order to make a good place for everyone on the team. Listening carefully helps us to include each child's interests in the program and activities we include throughout the year.

Respond to Issues as Soon as They Occur
Typically problems arise with small comments or gestures that give you a glimpse that there is a problem. It's best to respond to those problems right away. For example if a child begins to become less invested or expresses discouragement or lack of interest, it's good to call the parents in and discuss the issue sooner or later. If you wait, problems just get bigger.

Be Clear about Goals and Objectives
It's important for children and their families to understand the goals and the objectives of the year up front. School is hard work sometimes, and that's not a bad thing, but sometimes rather than tackle the hard work in positive ways, it can become a source of frustration or problems. Understanding the goals up front and then working towards a positive path to meet those goals is a good way to approach the year.

Record Keeping and Response is Essential
It's critical to keep records of who is doing what with regard to student learning. It is essential that once the goals are clearly outlined, it becomes transparent to children, families, and teachers about how children are doing with those goals.

Team Building Protocols and Expectations
Students need to understand the importance of working as a team, and there needs to be good protocols in place for that right up front. Students generally will work towards the protocols set if the protocols are outlined, upheld, and revised as needed by the teaching/learning community.

Overall it was a terrific fifth grade year this year. I know this because at every major event whether online or offline, we reviewed what happened with specific informal and formal holistic assessments. Field trips were fun and educational. Expert visitors were knowledgeable and engaging. Class projects were focused on meaningful standards and completed with care. Final celebrations were well attended, educational, and enjoyable.

No doubt, it was a tough ending due to the pandemic, but all indicators point to a best possible year, and for the few areas where we could have done better, we'll focus on those as areas of improvement next year. Onward.

The Final Two Days of the School Year: Remote Teaching 2020

Today marks the second to last day of the school year. The day's big event is Move-Up Day--a day when we meet our 2020-2021 fifth grade class. This is always an exciting event, and although it's virtual this year, I know we'll bring the same enthusiasm and care that we bring when the meeting is in real time.

The end of the year has included all of the typical events in the virtual sphere. Last night students watched their exemplary performances in the fifth grade play, The Show Must Go Online. The creativity of teachers and students was showcased in this wonderful production that captured the humor, collaboration, and skill remote teaching and learning required. While students did not get to put on a live performance, they learned a lot about television/film production and performance. I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these budding artists end up in Hollywood in the future as actors, musicians, set/costume designers, producers, or directors. The show was amazing.

Today, current fifth graders will discuss year-long memories as we look at pictures of the year's learning, talk about the play production, and share questions and ideas related to the school year overall and summer vacation. I'll end the meeting with the incredible video that the principal shared yesterday (see below).

Tomorrow there will be a drop-in time for students who have last minute questions and share, then there will be a homeroom meeting to share a parent-made video of the children's elementary school experience and finally a virtual clap-out celebration by the entire school.

While virtual, we were able to replicate all of our traditions, celebrations, and signature learning events of the fifth grade year. I am so pleased that we did that.

Summer will find me focused on some personal goals as well as two major learning goals related to the books, White Fragility and Limitless Mind.

Time to ready for the exciting and meaningful remote teaching day ahead.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Gut reactions? Should you share?

I shared a few gut reactions yesterday. I thought about whether this was a good idea or not since I didn't have the specific facts to back up some of my gut reactions, but in the end, I thought that it was important to share since time is an important focus. Without sharing those reactions, people might not think of the perspectives I shared, and I believed it was important to consider those perspectives.

Overall, I think it is important to keep the mission of the work we do and the values we have as we make any decisions during this pandemic.

At a teacher meeting, a colleague shared a gut reaction with me. The share was sharp, but it truly helped me to think about the bigger picture with greater perspective. Had the colleague waited, I may not have altered my perception so quickly about the discussion topic.

Gut reactions if shared with sensitivity and good focus are sometimes worth sharing.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Difficult Decisions: Teaching 2020-2021

School year 2020-2021 will include many difficult decisions. In times of need such as this pandemic, many are looking for support. Teachers, by nature, typically want to be as supportive and helpful as they can be. Teachers' will to help others can be challenging at times since teachers might wear themselves out which greatly weakens their ability to teach well.

What's a teacher to do?

Safety First
First, it is important to acknowledge that there will be difficult decisions ahead in school year 2020-2021. In difficult times, people think first about their own survival and welfare, and sometimes they might not think about what you need to be healthy. You have to be your best advocate by making sure that your health needs come first by way of a safe environment for teaching, safe protocols, and taking the time off that you need when you are ill.

Sadly, a few grocery store and nursing home workers died during this pandemic because safety procedures were not in place to protect their lives. Teachers have to make sure that those safety procedures are in place in schools to protect their lives and the lives of those they work with and teach.

What is the mission?
As some lead efforts in schools during the pandemic, they may allow their ambition to trump mission by making choices that look good, but are really not that good when we consider our mission as educators. It is critical that we keep the mission up front at this time in school life--we can't just do things because they look good or feel good, instead we have to think deeply about what really matters for these children's lives today and into the future, and what matters for our professional mission as educators.

Educators are not babysitters. Yes, we are in the business of child care--we want the children we teach to be well cared for when they are in our midst, but our primary job is to educate, and how can we do that during a pandemic? That's a question many school communities are grappling with right now. Our own school community is facing that issue with initial conversations and debates about how we should frame the start of next year. In my opinion and the opinion of many, I believe we need to face this situation with the following hierarchy of priorities:
  1. Safety first
  2. Relationships next
  3. Engaging, empowering education following that
How can we maximize our strengths as a teaching team to reach our mission?
Once we define our mission going forward, the next job is to think about how we can maximize our strengths as a teaching/learning community to meet our mission. When we do this we have to think about both short term and long term goals. A lot of time and effort has been invested in identifying standards that create a strong academic foundation for students. I don't think we should lose sight of that. If we continue to focus on a mission of establishing children's strong academic, physical, and social-emotional learning foundation-we will continue to meet students' needs today and into the future. This is a good goal, and then within each grade-level or discipline, it will be important to think about what that looks like for their teaching/learning program. 

What efforts will be put at the bottom of the list?
By putting some efforts at the bottom of the list, we focus our efforts in positive ways. For example, our team will not prioritize field trips or special visitors in the fall. We'll reconsider these valuable parts of our teaching/learning program again midyear when we see how things are going. Our school assembly will likely be eliminated at the start of the school year unless we do it virtually so that children at home and children in school can watch the presentation virtually. Some of the fun collaborative learning activities and games will also be put at the bottom of the list and reconsidered midyear to see if we might fit those in later in the year. Teaching/learning efforts such as math talk and math model making will be prioritized since those are valuable learning efforts that sometimes don't get the time they require during a typical year, but with the likely limitations the pandemic will bring to school year 2020-2021, these activities can be prioritized in valuable ways.

What processes will be used for decision making?
Decisions made with good process will result in the best decision making. It is important to involve multiple perspectives when it comes to these decisions. Inclusive process that regards the view point of all stakeholders will result in the best decisions.

Long Term Value
We have to see the pandemic for what it is which is a relatively short term event--we should not squander funds, but think deeply about what investments will support both the short term and long term goals. How can we make decisions that will profit our school community for the long run while facing and meeting the short term needs too?

In the system where I work, there's already been a lot of positive big picture thinking with respect to the 2020-2021 school year. As a teaching team at the fifth grade, we've already discussed our priorities and possibilities in this regard. We have an initial framework in place and look forward to focusing on the details as part of the greater teaching/learning team. Onward. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Teaching During a Pandemic: Take the Long View

As I considered a number of teaching and learning issues today, I was reminded about the fact that while it is important to plan for needed safety and response to the pandemic, when it comes to the big decisions, it's important to take the long view.

Don't waste too much money or time on short-term, quick fix solutions, but instead make the investments necessary to strengthen a school system for the long term not just for the present. When making an investment keep the mission upfront too. Too often people anxiously make decisions to please a few now rather than make the good decisions to please and serve most for the long run.

School Year 2020-2021

Plans are complete for school year 2019-2020. There are a few lessons to go and a project to review and comment on, but in general, plans are complete and we're ready to give our full attention to students at the virtual meetings planned for the final four days of school.

Before I begin summer study and break, I want to focus in on my overarching goals for next year.

A Strong, Caring Team
Last year we worked hard to create a strong, caring team, and that work paid off when we had to transition to remote teaching and learning. Yesterday, we learned a lot about our upcoming fifth graders. As fourth grade teachers described the students' interests and needs, I thought of multiple ways that we can begin the year to affirm who students are, respond to their interests, and build a strong, caring community. That's our first priority--a priority we'll share with students and families at Move-Up Day on Tuesday.

Anti-Racist; Opportunity for All Education
I'll begin the summer by reading the book White Fragility and discussing the book with a number of friends and colleagues via Twitter, online meetings, and an off-line, more private vehicle for idea share. While I read the book, I will focus on how I can promote anti-racist opportunities for all within my home, school, and community. I am looking forward to the increased capacity this book will bring to my practice and the students, families, and colleagues I work with.

Math Education
As I read Boaler's book, Limitless Mind, this summer, I want to think about how I will empower the math program in ways that make it more meaningful and successful for students. I truly believe that a mathematical mindset sets students up for more accurate, efficient, and proactive ways to see the world, solve problems, and empower their own lives. When you lack mathematical skill, ability, and mindset, you are less able to navigate the modern world in beneficial ways. Our world needs good problem solvers, and to solve problems well, mathematics is essential. I will find ways to empower my students to enjoy math, find math valuable, and boost their mathematical skills, concept, and knowledge during fifth grade.

One big push at the start of the year will be a focus on making mathematical models in sketch books with colored pencils, rulers, and fine point pens. To translate complex math concepts into models is one powerful way to build mathematical skill and understanding.

I will also spend time teaching students how to use the many math-related "intelligent assistants" available online and offline. If you teach students how to access and use these tools, and then promote engaging contests and practice sessions, student will use the tools to their advantage and grow their abilities.

Further, we'll spend time grappling with complex, real-world math problems and projects so students can see how using a logical, math-based approach to problem solving and project work is a beneficial to living well and making a difference.

Science Education
It is likely that we'll focus our greater science efforts on the second semester since so many of our activities involve collaborative work. Rather than rewrite that work for singular study, I think we should wait and see what the winter holds related to the pandemic. A powerful math/ELA start to the year will help students obtain the basics, and then leave room for more science and social studies in the second term. At that time, we'll teach the subjects in whatever way works for the health and welfare of our students.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The last few items on the school year list

We're at the end of the school year.

Most teachers like me manage their energy so that the last few weeks include a big push to complete signature projects and special events. We pushed and almost every student completed their biography projects, STEAM creations, math expectations and the fifth grade play. For the few that didn't finish one or two of the big items on the list, it was not for a lack of trying or support. Those students made good progress too. We are proud of all students' fine performance in all areas of the curriculum--they clearly learned a lot this year and we are leaving them with a large number of summer study choices to keep the learning going throughout the summer via those links and in their own creative and curious ways.

The final events of the year include the following:

  • Virtual Freedom Trail field trip led by colleagues
  • Gratitude Day: A day to learn about and write thank you notes
  • Virtual Field Trip to learn about local nature trails 
  • The fifth grade play, "The Show Must Go Online," premiere
  • Move-Up Day Greetings and Meetings
  • Final homeroom meetings
  • Fifth grade team finale and clap-out video
Almost all the planning is done for these events.

There's some paperwork to complete as well.

Then time for a summer reprieve, reflection, and study to power up for the 2020-2021 school year. We did it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Today's Teaching/Learning Focus

Today is another busy day of remote teaching and learning. Here's what is on the agenda.

We'll kick off the day with an 8 a.m. meeting focused on the day's big event which is the TeamFive Readathon. My colleague who leads all reading efforts will review multiple sources of digital books available and Middle School summer reading requirements. She will entertain many questions too.

Homeroom Meeting
I'll meet with the homeroom, entertain their questions, and share their wonderful biography reports today.

Teacher Meetings
As typical at this time of year, we'll have multiple teacher meetings today related to end-of-year celebrations, planning, and parent needs/questions.

Author Visit
We have a special author visit too for the students. I always enjoy listening to authors discuss their craft.

Next School Year

Every Friday I like to organize my thoughts for the week ahead so that I can relax a bit over the weekend. We all know that teachers that are all work and no play are not as ready to teach well. So with this in mind, I want to express my overall plans for school year 2020-2021 so that when school ends next Wednesday, I'll be able to take a break, relax, and have some fun.

As with every year, safety will be a first priority with school year next year. To prepare, I've organized the classroom well for a safe set-up. I've also ordered new masks, and will work with colleagues to think about a list of safe share routines that we'll use for online and offline projects beginning at the start of the year.

We'll use a Google form to collect important family/student/colleague contact information and preferences. Having that information handy from the start of the year really helps us to stay in touch with students, families, and colleagues from the start. We'll also update our website and continue our practice of weekly newsletters too. I want to talk with colleagues about our protocols for relationship building and communication because we know that good relationships lay the foundation for meaningful and successful learning.

We have to get to know one another in positive ways to build good relationships with students, and we'll likely start the school year with our traditional Three Words Project that is one way to get to know students well. We'll use other activities that build team and relationships too.

Learn the Tools and Protocols
The focus of the first days of learning will be to learn the main learning tools such as the class website, Google Classroom, Google apps, Screencastify, and more. Making the time to teach the tools well, sets student sup for terrific learning all year long. While students learn the tools, they'll make a TeamFive movie, set up digital portfolios, learn to make math models, write stories, choose digital books, and begin their book lists and reflections.

Special Projects and Events
We'll likely rethink the roll out of the year's activities to match the fall teaching/learning protocols and schedule. We have a great year of activities and learning goals. We'll likely teach the units that match limitations first and save the more active, collaborative learning experiences for later in the year.

Professional Learning
Over the summer, I'll use multiple sources to hone my skills related to multiple tech tools. I'll also dig into the book, White Fragility, and think about how I'll use that learning to update the teaching/learning year's efforts in order to create a more equitable, inclusive, and teaching/connected learning community.

Now it's time to stay the course for the final days of school, and then take a break to energize and ready for a positive teaching/learning year ahead.

End of School Year Emotions

The final days of the school year are the ribbon on the gift
that the year in its entirety has been. 
Yesterday was an emotional day as I considered many, many reactions to the end of the school year. The end of each school year is filled with a myriad of emotions, and this year is filled with even more due to the unpredictable and unprecedented times that we're in.

I tend to be one of those people who feels others' emotions deeply--like a weighted vest, those emotions were heavy on my mind and spirit yesterday afternoon. Fortunately a good night's sleep helped me to think about the emotions and where to place them.

Changing Roles
For some teachers, the end of the year marks ending their tenure as teachers, moving to new roles, or even the unknown with regard to their roles for next year. These changes evoke multiple emotions.

Celebration Perspectives
Since traditions of old are not possible this year, there are multiple perspectives about how to replace those traditions. This variability evokes emotion. As one teacher remarked, big changes bring big emotions.

Student Worries
While most of our students will move forward with peace and happiness, there's always a few that you worry about. We've done what we could for those students--we pushed ahead even when uncomfortable to help create a positive path ahead for each child. Yet, there's always a bit of worry left.

At the end of the year, many teachers like me tend to assess the year. I would say that this year overall was very successful--despite the pandemic, we taught all that we planned to teach and we reached out to teach each and every child with care and attention. But, as with every year, there was new learning and a few regrets. I'll translate those regrets into some new teaching/learning routines for next year as I do every year.

We always push hard all year, but we push especially hard at the end of the year to complete signature projects and special events. We can do that because we know there's a reprieve right around the corner. That leaves us somewhat saturated.

We like our students. We have enjoyed teaching them all year. Good-bye's are always both exciting because they are moving on to an exciting new Middle School adventure and emotional because we will miss these wonderful children.

Knowing that these emotions are a natural part of the school year end is positive. And staying the course to make the final days meaningful, positive, sensitive, and celebratory is important too. It's time to embrace a manageable end-of-year schedule, the kind of schedule that puts the ribbon on an overall wonderful year of fifth grade teaching and learning.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Each school year's lessons inform the following year

Every school year brings new lessons, lessons that I apply the following year. This is one way to better your practice year after year. Onward.

What is the role of an educator?

Educators at a recent meeting discussed an issue that made us think about mission--what is our mission as educators? Similar to parenting, education is one of those limitless jobs. There's no end to what you can do, but there are limits to time, energy, and capacity. While the job is limitless, we are limited. So what's a teacher to do?

As teachers talked at this recent meeting, I realized that it was time, once again, to visit the mission of the work I do--where should I spend my time? What should I do? With the recent transition to remote teaching and learning, I am probably not the only teacher asking these questions right now.

I became a teacher because I believe in the power that a good education holds for bettering lives. Education matters when it comes to good living, and I wanted to be part of that betterment process. So, above all, I see my role as a teacher as that of an educator, and I see my role as an educator as one who helps students build a strong foundation of academic skill, concept, and knowledge. Over the years I've read a lot about how to do that and above all it is important to offer students a safe, welcoming environment and strong, positive, trusting relationships. At school, we've had a long history of how to do this as well as a deep commitment to bettering our ability to do that. In the remote teaching world, we are still committed to safety and strong relationships, but we are knew at thinking about what that means exactly--what do good relationships and safe welcoming learning environments look like in the virtual sphere? That's a question we've been asking ourselves as we try out a host of strategies and endeavor.

In some cases, people's answers to questions related to strong, positive environments and good relationships in the virtual world differ, and to complicate matters it is not simply a remote world of teaching and learning, but also a world in the midst of a pandemic.

As I think about these questions with only a few days left in the school year, I realize that it is time to stay the course that we have created--a course which finds students attending regular meetings and working on positive learning projects and endeavor. Despite the move to remote teaching and learning, it has been a good, but very different, fifth grade year for students and teachers. With regard to next year, I want to reflect on questions related to our mission, what it means to be a good educator, build strong relationships, meet and model professional expectations, and create welcoming, engaging learning environments. Onward.

Remote Teaching and Learning: Record Keeping

As we enter the final full week of remote teaching and learning, I am thinking about the best ways to keep records in this virtual sphere. At school we have a few record keeping systems in place including attendance, student academic records, and a few others. In our role as educators, it is important that we keep records we can refer to as we assess programs and student performance. How can this become part of the remote teaching/learning efforts in efficient and useful ways?

When we began remote teaching and learning, we didn't know what to expect. As time went on, we realized that attendance is important for student growth and success. In general, students who were not attending remote teaching meetings were not keeping up with the learning as well as those who were showing up. Yet we did not have an official attendance policy or record keeping system. Looking forward, I believe it is important to create some kind of online attendance register and to take attendance at the start of each meeting.

Parent/Teacher Meeting Records
We had some teacher meeting records in place that we continued. For example, we take notes about our PLC meetings and we have records of those notes. I think it's important to have a brief record about every meeting, and perhaps some kind of record file could be created and completed so that we can refer back to these records if needed.

Student Achievement Records
We have some record keeping systems in place, and we did give some assessments virtually, however, we have to think about the ways we assess and record student growth in the remote teaching and learning world. I'm sure we'll work as a team in this regard.

As a school committee person recently mentioned, in the past we would spend months talking as a system about what now seem like simple changes, and with our quick switch to remote teaching we simply moved into a brand new world of teaching and learning without the planning or preparing for all the details that included. Of course this was the right thing to do given the situation, but to note this brings focus on the work left to do. Onward.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Spring 2020 Remote Teaching and Learning: The last few priorities

It has been a very, very busy spring of remote teaching and learning. My colleagues and I have learned how to use countless tech tools and new routines and procedures for teaching our students. All in all, I would say that we've had a terrific success rate when it comes to student attendance, engagement, and learning. We made the best of the situation.

Along with teaching, we have spent a good deal of time in the past few weeks preparing for next year. We completed all kinds of student-centered efforts to make sure that our students are well situated when it comes to moving to the Middle School. We've exchanged information with the Middle School, hosted Middle School teachers at our virtual meetings, and completed need forms and information. The Middle School has what they need to get our rising sixth graders off to a great start.

We've also prepared to greet next year's fifth graders at Move-Up Day which will occur next week, and we've prepared our Fifth Grade Fun Week activities and end-of-the-year celebratory events.

This week is another busy week with the following priorities:
  • Attending, supporting, and leading Fifth Grade Fun Week Events
  • Hosting a number of math drop-in sessions
  • Attending a large number of teacher meetings to finalize end-of-the-year plans and recognition
  • Review and comment on students' STEAM slides
  • Sharing students' biography projects at our weekly class meeting
  • Completing report cards
  • Writing a few thank you notes to people who have been incredibly helpful during this time
  • Scheduling meetings for summer prep
We've really given remote teaching and learning our full attention and best work. I'm proud of the efforts of our collective team. I don't think we could have done it better given the short notice and quick transition. We'll use what we learned, however, to put a dynamic hybrid program into place in the fall. Onward. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Making a school video

I was working on a school video today. It was more difficult than I anticipated mostly because the video's big idea is difficult to translate to film.

Despite the challenge, I still think the idea is a good one because it is an inclusive, safe, and doable way to replicate a long held practice that cannot occur due to the pandemic.

I learned a lot about video too.

First, in the fall, I want to teach students how to videotape themselves in the best possible ways using the tech tools we have. I also want to show them how to fitle and share videos in positive ways with one another by uploading to various sites, adjusting permission settings, and sharing links.

I also want to follow the strategies I learned today about making a video.

1. Determine the video theme, concept, and structure--draw a diagram on paper or online to guide your work.

2. Upload videos to the film making software you are using in a good order.

3. Then, place the images in order on the movie making software.

4. Adjust the sound on each video so that sounds you want to hear are audible and sounds you don't want to hear are muted.

5. Once you have images in good order, then add any sound effects you want to use.

6. Finally add choose and add the music in good order.

I just jumped into the job today without this logical list. Next time I'll follow this list.

I'll refer to these notes for future projects. Onward.

Conflict and Compromise in the Remote Teaching/Learning World

Communication is not as fluid in the remote teaching/learning world. I can't simply pop into a colleague's room to discuss an issue and as we discuss the issue, not only hear the colleague's words, but also read her body language too. That kind of communication was richer than online meetings that capture words and facial expressions, but not the body-talk and surrounding circumstances. When teaching, learning, and collaborating online, we have to think about communication differently. What is important here?

It is essential to prioritize what is most important in your teaching/learning community and use that priority list as you make decisions. This is the list I've created, that I will consult as I make decisions. I've shared this list with colleagues and will be interested to see if they change the order or revise some of these priorities. The priorities begin with a focus on the teacher-student efforts and then move out to the greater community focus. Someone in a different role may think of this list in a different order.
  1. Safety first
  2. Relationships next - make strong student-family-educator teams that build strong teaching/learning relationships
  3. Teach children to be lifelong learners w/optimal mindsets, teaching/learning behaviors that can morph in and out of any teaching/learning environment
  4. Give every child a strong academic foundation including a strong standards foundation
  5. Make sure we are using a number of consistent, top-notch online/offline tools that support an optimal education
  6. Scheduling is key--we didn’t know where to begin with scheduling for remote instruction in the fall, but now that we’ve done it for a few months, we have a better sense of what works. 
  7. Parents have complained about virtual learning start time of 8am. Having good parameters about school start and end time will probably be important in the fall. 
  8. Communication: Communication via online venues as much as possible rather than real time in-person communication to avoid spread (i.e. PLC, staff meetings, more online rather than n real time)
  9. Inclusive decision making processes - how can we enlist the voices of all constituents in this planning process in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
  10. Inclusion matters - many stakeholders may see decisions mainly from their perspective and not realize the perspective of others--if we are a school that values inclusion, we need to make that clear and also foster processes that demonstrate our commitment.

Schedules, Protocols and Explicit Expectations Matter
We have to have good protocols, schedules, and explicit expectations for online learning, teaching, and collaborating. Without those, the communication won't be as successful. What protocols, schedules, and expectations matter?

First, schools need to think deeply about scheduling. Some families were disappointed that we scheduled student meetings this week for our typical school start time. They thought that was too early, yet it was almost impossible to schedule those meetings later due to the number of other meetings already scheduled--the early slot was open and available which meant everyone could attend. While I understood families' concerns, we simply didn't have the luxury to schedule a later time due to the many other meetings scheduled. In the future, however, we need to consider how to schedule meetings in ways that meet most family's needs and availability.

Protocols and expectations ensure that everyone has a chance to participate and that everyone attends meetings and completes assignments in doable ways. These protocols also help us to provide help where needed. These protocols and explicit expectations have to be a priority as we move ahead in our blended (hybrid) teaching/learning world.

Lead Time Matters
Decisions made at the last minute are typically not as good as decisions that are made with considerable lead time. Lead time gives time for the voices of all concerned as well as time to reflect, revise, and improve decisions. Of course, our quick transition to remote learning did not give us a lot of lead time to think about how to make this happen. So, in hindsight and with greater lead time, I would have made some decisions differently.

Discomfort Will Occur
As we navigate new situations, there will be a sense of discomfort. Discomfort is not pleasurable, but will be a part of the process. We will make mistakes, but if our mistakes are made with good intention and a focus on the priorities above, the mistakes will not create long lasting problems. For example, there is controversy over a traditional practice. Some feel it should be one way and others feel it should be another way. The avenue chosen is the most inclusive and safest while the avenue desired may be a bit more fun. To choose the fun choice means people may be left out and it might not be as safe since there hasn't been as much lead time to think it through, and the fun way can be recreated in smaller ways with those interested, while the inclusive way has to come from the team. In the long run, it is not a huge deal, and to choose a safe, inclusive route will mean everyone can be there and everyone will be safe so it's not a bad choice.

There's lots to think about as we move to a more hybrid approach to teaching and learning in the fall, and as we think about this, one key factor is what we do to communicate well.

Friday, June 12, 2020

What is the role of an educator?

As I read emails, cleaned the classroom, and planned for the week ahead, I thought about the question: What is the role of an educator?

I suppose I've been pondering that question throughout my lengthy career as an elementary school educator, but the pandemic has cast a new light on that question. Just what is the role of an educator?

I am proud to be an educator because I believe that a good education empowers and betters one's life. I like being part of that betterment process. My education certainly empowered my life and I see how my the education of my sons, husband, siblings, neighbors, and friends have empowered their lives.

As educators, we have to think carefully about our priorities when it comes to our professional role and responsibility. What are our priorities? What is most important when it comes to top notch teaching and learning? I imagine that we'll have many conversations about that in the weeks and months ahead as we continue to face school during a pandemic. I look forward to think about this question more once I pass the saturation point that three months of a quick transfer to remote learning has created.

What is the role of an educator? What do you think?

Classroom Clean-up: Part Two

A good four hours and several barrels of trash and recycling later, the classroom is cleaned up. As I cleaned up, I prepared for our new reality--school that requires greater blended learning and social distancing. I got rid of lots of old, rickety cabinets, cracked plastic bins, and outdated posters, assignments, and teaching materials. I must say that I am looking forward to working in this clean and lean classroom next year. As I cleaned up, I thought a lot about the lessons we'll forward at the start of the year, lessons that teach students how to work in the classroom and use materials thoughtfully. Some of the initial lessons will include the following:

Book Review
I have many books in the classroom. I want students to assess which ones we should keep and which ones should be retired. That will be an initial lesson as students get to know what's in the classroom library.

Math Model Making
I have countless materials for math model making, and we'll learn how to make multiple math models at the start of the year using those materials.

Math "Guides on the Side"
I have many charts and models that help students with their math work. We'll review those and learn how to access, use, and make these guides to assist math learning.

Digital Tools
We'll spend considerable time learning how to use the prioritized digital tools or intelligent assistants, both software and hardware.

In general, the first weeks of school will be spent empowering students to know about the multiple tools they have access to and the many ways they can use those tools on their own and with others to learn.

Will we return to school in the fall?

I admit I am a bit nervous about returning to school in the fall. I am also nervous about branching out beyond the safety of my home as the world around me opens up. I've read a lot about this, and plan to face this with care and safety.

What will I do?

Essentially, as a recent Boston Globe article suggested, it is a case of risk management, and when possible, lowering your risk of infection.

Keep it clean!
Extra attention to cleanliness. Washing and sanitizing hands, table tops, materials regularly. Teach students about good hygiene with regard to tissues, hand washing, sharing items, and more.

A Good Routine
Establish routines that lead to greater cleanliness and little or less spread. Keep a simple, daily routine that leads to clean, safe behaviors. Keep it lean and clean.

Communicate online versus face-to-face whenever possible
Continuing to meet with colleagues online rather than in real time as much as possible seems like a good way to reduce risk. That means online parent conferences, staff meetings, PLCs, and student service meetings.

Find the silver linings
I will continue to look for silver linings--what advantages do these limitations create? Some advantages that I notice so far include the following:

  • Learning outdoors in nature is positive. (Of course, last fall we faced mosquito-related threats so that may be an issue)
  • Deeper learning and coaching are possible with reduced numbers of students online. Without the distractions of close proximity and social situations, students have the potential to be more focused on deeper learning tasks and efforts. 
  • Learning how to use online "intelligent assistants" to assist your passion-driven, interest-based learning helps students to be super lifelong learners. 
  • Curating, sharing, and using the best resources--there are amazing resources out there, but often, due to time-on-task constraints, we don't have the time to discover those resources. Teaching remotely gives us more time for that kind of work. I've discovered many, many awesome resources in the past few months--resources that have invigorated the curriculum in meaningful ways. 
Time will tell what happens, but it is in everyone's best interests to stay positive, do what you can, and keep principles and actions of risk management at the center of what you do. 

Classroom clean-up

It is time to clean up the classroom. This will be a very different experience than in the past. I will be cleaning up and putting things away with the unknown in mind. What school will look like in the fall is a mystery, yet there have been some consistent rumors about what that might look like.

How will I clean up with this in mind?

If I didn't use it this year, and it's not a special supply--get rid of it
Typically the end-of-the-year clean up is a time for purging. So if I didn't use the supply this year and it is not a special supply, I'll toss it.

Learning materials organization
There are a number of learning materials that we do use regularly. I'll sort and organize those materials into same spaces. While it seems like students may keep their supplies in their backpacks or desks, I'll have supplies ready to make students' personal packages of materials or to replenish missing materials.

Less paper, more online activities
It is likely that students will work more online than on paper in the fall, so I'll organize paper supplies with that in mind.

While I'm not excited about the big clean up and a bit nervous about stepping outside of my comfort zone in my house, I'll clean for a fairly easy set-up should we return to school in the fall with the following fall teaching/learning activities in mind.

  • Learning how to use the website/learning menu
  • Creating online digital portfolios (Google Websites)
  • Learning how to film yourself and share that firm (My Three Words Project)
  • Learning how to use online tools to support your learning
  • Building classroom community
    • What does a class meeting look like and what protocols do we use for conversation, share, listening
    • What does safe school attendance look like--what do we do
    • Who are we, what do we enjoy, how can we be a strong classroom community
    • What are our protocols for safe, happy, productive classroom teaching and learning
  • Setting classroom goals--what are we hoping to learn this year, how will we do that.
  • Curriculum Focus for Fall
    • Heavy emphasis on an early start to the math curriculum
    • Emphasis on an early start to reading, writing curriculums
    • Focus on environmental education--learning outdoors
Overall the focus will be a clean, lean and focused learning environment for the fall whether we are online, offline, or a mix of both. Onward. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Time to Think and Analyze

I went to bed weary at a very early time last night and woke up in the wee hours of the morning with a head full of ideas. That's the way my brain works--I take in a lot over time, and then as if I'm carrying a 100 pound bag, I get very weary. Yet, during my evening sleep, the ideas sort and organize, and then I wake up with a lot more clarity. It's taken me a long time to understand my brain, and I know that the more we understand how our brains work, the better we are able to manage our ideas, creativity, and overall lives.

For the past three months, I've essentially been on go as I transitioned to virtual teaching and learning. There have been many, many lessons along the way, but with steady support from all members of the learning team including students, family members, colleagues, administrators, and community members, we made a successful catapult into this new academic world.

Today marks my first day without a day full of online meetings and classes. I made some time for myself and my colleagues to plan for the days ahead and analyze what has happened so far and what will happen in the days and year ahead. This is welcome and needed time.

While I take this time to think, plan, respond, and clean up my classroom in the next couple of days, students will be busy finalizing and enjoying their awesome STEAM projects and participating in the school's DREAM Day--a day to "DRop Everything And Move!"

So, after answering three pages of emails, updating the STEAM slideshow with student videos, updating the fifth grade learning menu, and reflecting on a large number of recent school community events and decisions, I'm ready to move ahead with the following efforts for this year and next:
  1. Plan upcoming days and focus with colleagues
  2. Attend student math club meetings and coach
  3. Create the Clap-Out Video
  4. Respond to student STEAM slides
  5. Edit students' news articles
  6. Complete student report cards
  7. Create virtual Nature Field Trip and related student activities
  8. Participate in a number of teacher meetings about this year and next
  9. Plan Move-Up day presentation with colleagues
  10. Participate in Move-Up Day Activities
  11. Lead White Fragility Book Group
  12. Review notes about next year's priorities, do some summer prep work
  13. Prioritize Tech Tools
  14. Update website
  15. Meet with colleagues to plan for next year's program
It's good to have a plan. Onward. 

Is it worth the battle?

Many years ago when I saw something that I wanted for school or my students, I was ready to battle to get that. I remember the battle to get students who didn't have computers access to computers. I returned from a conference in DC about equity and serving students well. I was empowered to make a difference from the awesome, pointed words of many, many educational leaders who spoke at the conference including Martin Luther King III.

Upon returning back to school, I mentioned the idea and received significant pushback. I was ready to battle and kept pushing the idea until finally someone with some clout agreed with me and started pushing for the change too. Eventually the change happened and that has made a positive difference.

I don't tell this story to pat myself on the back, but instead, I am bringing the story to mind as I think of another idea and wonder if I have the energy to battle to get the idea approved. I have had to battle a lot as an educator to forward ideas and efforts that I think are meaningful and beneficial to students. In general, people don't readily embrace my ideas. I've thought a lot about why that is true. Some may say it's my delivery--I tend to be direct, tangental, and led a lot by intuition which is sometimes difficult to translate in the real world. Also, since I've spent most of my time as a practitioner rather than a scholar, I've concocted my own way to explain and connect ideas and information--ways easily understood by children and some colleagues, but less understood by those distanced from classroom life. And, I admit, I'm often impatient--if I see a good idea, I want it now. I have a way of knowing good ideas when they occur, and I'm impatient about waiting for those ideas to happen. Further, I am a bit of a futuristic thinker. I know this because ideas I've thought about or started often become popular about five to ten years after I started thinking about the idea or making it part of my life. Many years ago I labored over teaching podcasting to my students. I finally gave up since I got little support for my efforts and it was so time consuming, and now podcasting is a much more popular medium. I shouldn't have given up, but to make it a steady part of the curriculum was such a steep climb.

So now I'm looking at another challenge, another battle. In general when I suggest my ideas to some in the school system, I'm scolded, ridiculed, and criticized. I'm told to fill out numerous forms, and then generally get the big NO. Other teachers simply don't ask permission and do what they want. No one says anything about that because they are quiet about their efforts, yet when you have lots of teachers quietly doing what they want you don't get the kind of dynamic teaching and learning community that's possible--a community of invested educators sharing great ideas and improving our collective efforts. That's my vision for great schools.

I think that I often get the NO simply because people don't want to be bothered with doing the extra work to try out new venues that actually support students in deep and meaningful ways. I think a lot of people like it easy and are unwilling to risk. I also get the NO because it's me, and people don't always understand me--fortunately children do understand me and make progress with me so that's good and why I've kept at this profession for so long.

I must say I'm a little battle weary, but I'll think on this next idea and how to approach it in the days ahead. It's too bad that school systems, in general, are a bit too cautionary when it comes to new and better ideas. Onward.

Remote Teaching and Learning: The Big Picture

This morning I am thinking about the big picture with regard to the last few months of remote teaching and learning. What happened? What did we learn? What will do in the future in this regard?

Academic Standards
In general whether we are in school or out of school, the academic standards we are asked to teach outnumber the days in the year and outpace students and teachers' time and energy. There are too many standards, yet all of the standards are valuable foundation skills, concepts, and knowledge. So what are teachers to do?

Over time our team has done a good job integrating the standards so that we teach almost all the standards. We still have work to do to integrate the relatively new and very valuable social studies standards into the curriculum. We can do that, but it will take thoughtful effort and dedication.

As far as the remote learning went, we were able to cover all the standards we have covered in past years, and in some cases we covered the standards overall with greater depth. Fortunately we started the year with many integrated units that put us in a good position when remote learning and teaching began. So in general, I would say we did a great job with regard to the academic standards at our grade level.

Signature Projects and Events
At our grade level, we are proud of the wonderful field trips, special projects, and events we include in the yearly program. Unfortunately we had to cancel a few events including a living history presentation, animation grant, sound presentation, and real-time field trips to Boston's Freedom Trail and Great Meadows Nature Preservation. The animation grant has been moved to next year, and we are conducting the field trips virtually. Fortunately we had already engaged in a large number of special events prior to the March remote learning start.

As for signature projects, we were able to move our traditional Global Changemakers project and the Global Cardboard/Recycled Goods challenge online. We sought the silver linings in this area and made the best of it.

Growth Mindsets and an Inclusive Teaching/Learning Community
We began the year with the theme "We all belong here." That included conversations about racism and prejudice. Throughout the year, we discussed these issues and worked at becoming an inclusive, supportive, kind, and caring learning community. So when recent events related to George Floyd's murder flooded the airways, we were able to talk about it as a learning community. This was good.

Similarly we fostered positive learning behaviors and growth mindsets all year long, so when we had to move to remote learning and teaching, students were ready to use that tool kit . That's been positive too.

Consistent Protocols and Expectations
We had a number of protocols and expectations in place for in-school teaching and learning, but when it came to remote learning and teaching, we didn't have those protocols and expectations. We didn't really know what to expect or what we could expect. Now after teaching and learning in the virtual sphere for a few months, I know that we have to impose expectations and protocols that work at school and via remote learning. These protocols and expectations have to include the following:

  • Attendance matters - you have to be present
  • Participation matters - you have to participate in all aspects of the learning program
  • Self advocacy matters - if you don't have what you need, you have to speak up. Remote learning and teaching requires greater amounts of self advocacy because it is not as easy to read students or understand their needs virtually as it is in real time.
  • Clear expectations and choices for student work - an even greater level of clarity is required with remote teaching and learning
  • Prioritizing and teaching the most important online tools that support a blended learning approach. 
Optimal Schedules
We have worked hard in the past many years to create optimal schedules for teaching and learning--the same must be done for next year with blended learning schedules in mind. Some scheduling priorities need to include the following times:
  • special educators and regular education teachers teaching together
  • small group instruction - RTI
  • class meetings 
  • PLCs and Staff Meetings
  • specialist instruction
  • parent meetings
  • professional planning and response
Student/Family Communication
In general some of the communication protocols we had in place when we moved to remote instruction worked well including the following:
  • grade-level website which includes all main information related to grade-level efforts
  • weekly newsletter to keep all families, colleagues, and students aware of what has happened, what will happen, and what is happening now
  • ready responses to emails from students, colleagues, and family members
  • response to student learning efforts by comments, rubrics, shared test results, online practice results
I want to think a bit more about how we can make response to student learning efforts motivating, thoughtful, and inspiring to students. How can we respond to students' learning efforts best to let them know what they are doing that's awesome, and what more they can do to continue their wonderful learning efforts. 

Life's Tugs and Pulls

I didn't now whether these musings belonged in my parenting blog or teaching blog since there is a tight intersection between both arenas of life when it comes to the topics that woke me up in the wee hours of the morning. I decided to place the post in my teaching blog since these issues do impact my teaching, and I don't want to lose sight of them as I move ahead with my professional practice.

Missing children
A few children have been missing from our remote learning and teaching efforts. We do not stand by silently as we witness this. Instead as a teaching team, we discuss the issue, reach out to families, write letters, make calls, and try a number of other avenues to touch base with the children and their families. We speculate on why the children may not be attending online classes or keeping up with the assignments. While I don't expect every child to be able to give 100% at this time for many, many reasons including economic struggle, everyday family issues, illness, worry, and more, I am worried when a child hardly shows up at all or a family does not communicate. What's a teacher to do?

Going forward I will be more explicit during fall family conferences about expectations, communication, and resources. Generally I have been explicit, but not with the expectation that we would transition to remote learning during the year--I never dreamed this would be a scenario that would happen. We do not have clear protocols and expectations for attendance, involvement, parent meetings, and student performance or learning in the remote world. Overall I think the entire learning community of family members, teachers, students, and community members have done a great job--our attendance rate hovers around 85% for any given meeting and our contact rate comes close to 100%--this is all good, but a few children are mostly missing in action when it comes to remote teaching and learning, and I worry about those children. I will continue to think on this topic with colleagues, and I will continue to reach out to the children and families that are not showing up. I'll seek support in these situations in other ways as well to make sure families know the resources available at the state level for support and help too.

Challenged colleagues, friends, and community members
Some in my midst are challenged with health and other issues at this time. It is a lonely time to be ill, distanced from loved ones, fearful, jobless, and facing economic/social hardship and uncertainty. Frightening and heinous scenes such as the murder of George Floyd and the teargassing of peaceful protests fill us with anguish, fear, sadness, and anger. Most of us want a peaceful world, a world without hateful divide, suffocating self-serving behaviors, and economic injustice. Yet, sad and worrisome events occur and are magnified during the pandemic limitations and unknown. Life has changed in so many ways in short time, and we have to coach ourselves forward daily to be positive, caring, and making the best of a situation that wouldn't be our choice--we have to continually look for the silver linings, and we know those silver linings exist.

As far as friends who are facing illness at this time, I wish them good health. No one likes to see people face illness and the worry and anguish that goes with that. I will do what I can to help out. As for those who are lonely at this time, I will also try to be there for those people--the only reason loneliness is not worse than grave illness is that there is generally an end to loneliness--generally people do find good companions in time if they continue to seek those relationships. The best we can do is to help out in ways that we can--we can contribute to help funds, invite people to spend time with us, send a card, write a note, make a phone call, give a gift--reach out and be there. "Do unto others as we would have them do unto you."

Confounding processes and oppression
As I watch people make decisions on local and national fronts, I am aware more than ever that poor process and communication often stands in the way of good action and result. When processes for communication, analysis, and decision making are not thoughtful, lots of time and energy are wasted--time and energy that could be spent towards personal or collective positivity and good.

I sat in on and listened to several meetings in the past few weeks where it was clear that there wasn't a clear vision at the helm of the meeting or processes used. The lack of a clear vision wasted time and found people veering off track in countless ways thus confounding any good process or ultimate decision making. Sometimes banter is just what we need, but in changing and challenging times like these, it is best to review the vision statement regularly in order to bring people back to a common set of expectations and goals.

I will be part of a number of meetings in the days ahead that will involve decision making--decision making related to family matters, professional work, and community decisions too. How will I be positively involved in those conversations, where will my focus be?

With regard to family, my main objective is not to rush people--family members don't have to choose any job, return to school right away, react quickly and thoughtlessly. By taking their time, my family members can adjust to the new reality we are living in. The added time most people have because they can't travel, they are working at home, jobs are scarce and entertainment minimal is a silver lining and a chance to think deeply about what life's next steps will be. It is a time to develop new passions, interests, and skills via reading, online courses, at-home making/doing, and outdoor activities.

Professionally, I want to keep in mind the following priorities with regard to my work and our collective work with children:
  • safety first
  • positive, helpful, productive, and enriching teaching/learning relationships second
  • developing a strong foundation of academic, social, emotional, and physical fitness skills and abilities third while prioritizing best identified standards/goals for the children we teach
  • building a modern, engaging, and forward thinking learning environment online and offline fourth
In the professional sphere during this time of dramatic response and change, I don't want to get caught up in efforts that don't matter a lot, but instead keep my focus on the overarching behaviors and events that do matter. What does matter to young children whether you are online or offline is the following:
  • positivity, kindness, helpful support
  • careful, thoughtful listening and response
  • engaging, enriching, empowering learning experiences with substantial coaching and support
  • working as a team to meet the needs and interests of students and their families
Speak up against lawless, corrupt, prejudicial, and harmful words and actions
Sadly, beginning in the White House, corruption, greed, and hate are blatantly obvious and harmful in today's world. We have to stand up, speak out, and act against behaviors like these at home, in the community, and throughout the world. I was so sickened by the murder of George Floyd and so many innocent people who have been murdered and harmed before him and still today. I could not watch the video--murder in front of a camera while people including the victim himself cried out for relief. That was abominable, inhumane, and deplorable. I have been inspired by the countless people who are standing up and speaking up to end this racism, hatred, and violence. I am glad that people are speaking up and standing up, and as these people are crying out, we can't be complacent. We have to work for greater peace, greater respect for all lives, and economic, social, health, environmental, and academic justice in every corner of society. I want to think deeply about the changes I can make in my life to serve this end more powerfully too and will begin this process with greater education and deep reflection and decision making on my own and with others as we engage in the White Fragility book group.

Personal health and happiness
We have to attend to our personal health and happiness too. If we are unhappy and unhealthy, we will not be able to help others. This is important.

I am sure that I am not the only one up in the wee hours of the morning contemplating life's call and challenges. I welcome this time of reflection--time that will direct me well in the days that follow. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Good Process Matters

Too many decisions are made based on conjecture, competition, and poor process. Not enough people today use the design process for decision making, and because of that we waste a lot of precious time, dollars, relationship capacity, and positive results.

Before any discussion about any decision, the process should be decided. To solve the kinds of problems we have to solve today demands a good, collaborative process that puts the mission center stage. This kind of process focuses next on what's in the decision making arena including both the positives and negatives. Then it proceeds step-by-step with good decision making processes that enlist all voices in efficient, inclusive, goal-oriented ways.

Students and I reflected a bit on good process today as I shared the Edutopia film about the design process--it was a good film for children to see with good reminders about the elements of the design process, elements students are engaged with right now as they make their Global Cardboard/Recycled Goods creations.

So as I move forward to the unpredictable 2020-2021 school year, I know that I will face the prospects shared with the following list of priorities and good process.


  • Safety first
  • Positive learning/teaching relationships
  • Prioritizing worthy curriculum goals
  • Engaging learning experiences
  • Regular formative assessment, student response, and teaching/learning team conversations 
  • Continued modeling, learning, and promoting optimal lifelong learning mindsets, skills, and endeavor
  • Listen
  • Speak up if ideas seem unrealistic, unhealthy/unsafe, and not in keeping with teaching/learning priorities
  • Otherwise make it work with the best of my energy, creativity, and will do to a top notch job
  • Continue to develop a strong teaching/learning program
There's a temptation to rush decisions and to not listen to hear what others are doing and why. There is some urgency to get started with next year's plans, but we shouldn't do this without putting good process first--without good process we waste time, money, and capacity. I don't want to do that. 

Spring 2020 Teaching/Learning: Keep it positive

As remote teaching/learning continues for the next two weeks, the key is to keep it positive. Students have been invited to take part in a number of engaging and helpful learning/teaching activities. Almost all students are staying engaged which is terrific. As for the few who are not engaging in the teaching/learning program, we are working with guidance counselors and administration as to how to help these students more. I worry about these students, and I wonder about what more we can do to support these students' healthy, happy, and positive involvement in remote learning programs. Next year, I want to put into place protocols that keep accurate records about attendance, project completion, participation, parent contact, and student needs.

The overarching priority during this remote learning/teaching time has been to keep our learning community strong and positive. I believe we have done that for the most part--every member of our staff has given 200% and almost every family member and student have given 200% as well--this has been amazing! So for the final days, we'll begin the days with a big smile, time for student questions and thoughts, and then the introduction to the day's learning focus including lots of interesting and engaging learning that students will continue on their own in multiple ways--ways we've suggested and ways that they'll create on their own.


Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Teaching/Learning: What does good coaching look like?

Good coaching is question/vision driven.

Good coaching is not talking at people or expert-driven, but instead good coaching begins with a transparent collective vision and then is driven by questions.

For example, in short time, I will coach a small group of students online to help them complete a standards-based tech program that all fifth graders in our district engage in. While I coach, each child will take turns putting their problem on the screen and leading my coaching with questions. I will guide the students with more questions and enlist the help of the other students at the meeting too. While I am coaching one student, the others will work on their own learning efforts as well as helping out with the coaching. The coaching group has a positive, can-do attitude and we're all reaching for the same goal which is to complete this program in an effective, beneficial way.

So, the first step to good coaching is to outline a common vision for the team. This vision needs to be transparent, overarching, and agreed upon. When the vision is murky, the coaching will never be successful.

The next step to good coaching is to know the people you are coaching well with regard to the vision. For example, I've had coaches who know nothing about me project time and again what I should be doing, but they've never made the time to really get to know me with regard to the vision we are working towards together. There needs to be a thoughtful, targeted discussion about the vision with questions such as the following:
  • Do you agree with the vision statement? Why or why not?
  • How do you approach meeting this vision? What do you do?
  • How can I help you with your efforts to meet the vision statement? Where do you need help?
Too often coaches jump in to check boxes before going deep to understand the people they coach with regard to the vision statement. Too often, coaches are not clear about the vision statement either. 

As a coach and one who is coached, I think it is very important to think deeply about the vision, mission, relationships, and questions before diving into the work--that makes the learning/teaching so much richer. I'll definitely have more to say about this later on, but these are my thoughts now as I enter into a lengthy coaching session with a number of enthusiastic math students. Onward.