Friday, July 31, 2020

Contributing to a better world

I was excited about teaching in the fall, but when decision makers appeared to create unsafe decisions, I decided to retire. 

Now, as you consider my decision, it's important to recognize the following factors:
  • In the best of circumstances, school decisions at this time are difficult--I know this isn't easy.
  • I tried to offer solutions, but no one appeared to take me seriously--I had no voice.
  • I have one of the CDC risk factors for COVID-19 so I was at risk of illness or even, death.
  • I knew that the fall would be greatly difficult given the fact that I had little voice and the climate appeared to put me at risk.
  • I have taught a long time (34 years) and was in a position where I could retire.
There are a number of aspects of teaching that I will miss including the following:
  • Working with children in dynamic ways to spark curiousity and support meaningful, productie learning quests.
  • Engaging children in learning how to use multiple pathways and tools for dynamic learning
  • Working with colleagues to create awesome programs to inspire, educate, and care for children.
Where will I go in the days ahead? What will I do?

First, I will play catch-up at home. I did put a lot of jobs on hold for a long time while I was working around the clock. It will be good to catch up with a number of household and family chores.

I will also think about the ways that I can use my skills and abilities to support betterment in new ways. I am considering a number of focus areas including the following:
  1. Supporting young families
  2. Supporting struggling students
  3. Working to get the vote out
  4. Contributing to environmental education and Earth-saving activities and advocacy
  5. Working towards a more sustainable lifestyle
  6. Research and writing to support advocacy for better policy in the United States, policies that uplift families, communities, and education in positive, modern ways. 
  7. Supporting educators and educational groups to foster best-possible education practices 
I am rightly sad to be leaving my school community--a place I devoted 34 years to, but I am satisfied that this is the right decision at this time. I'm excited to see where the next steps will take me. If you have any insights or ideas, let me know. 

Digital Identity

I began my digital identity a long time ago--I just jumped in and started exploring lots and lots of tools. I learned a lot by connecting with educators via Twitter and attending countless conferences. I enjoyed this journey and was more tangental than systematic with this exploration hence my digital identity includes all kinds of accounts and projects on multiple sites.

Now that I'm retiring from 24-7 classroom teaching work, I want to think about my digital identify focus with a greater systematic approach--I will have time to pay attention to the details more. What will I do?

Import accounts to new accounts
First, I'll have to import many accounts to my private accounts from my school accounts. That will take some time.

Figure out my direction
I want to think about the digital work I want to do going forward. I know that I want to get better at creating videos, blogging, and creating websites. So I've got some research and study to do.

I'll create some short books about a number of topics. I haven't decided what I'll do with those books yet, but there's no rush.

I truly enjoy the digital journey--I love to create and communicate with digital tools. I look forward to this creative chapter in life. I welcome your thoughts and ideas. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

How will you feel at the end?

It may sound strange, but a good way to begin any endeavor is to think about how you hope to feel at the end of that endeavor.

Let's take a day at the beach. You expect to spend a day at the beach, and before you plan what you'll do, you think about how you want to feel when the day is over. For me, I want to feel relaxed and happy. I don't want to feel sore from sunburns, heavy from unhealthy food, or exhausted from too much activity. Then you work backwards and plan the day.

How do you want to feel at the end of your career? I just experienced this with the decision to retire, and I must say, I feel great. I worked hard throughout my career and did my best. I'm leaving this stage with a sense of satisfaction--that's good.

I asked myself this question, a long time ago, with respect to a loved one that was very ill. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to feel when that person died. I did what I could to support that person, and when that person passed away, I was very sad, but also satisfied that I did what I could to support the relationship in positive ways. 

There are times when I have not taken this approach--times when I let emotion, current needs, and a lack of true thought lead my words and actions. These are the times that lead to regret. Getting back to the beach day--there have been beach days that I've ended feeling lethargic from too much junk food, sunburned by not taking the time to apply sunscreen or cover up, and frazzled simply because I didn't take the time to plan or prepare well. 

It may sound crazy, but it's worth the effort to make some time to think about how you want to feel at the end of your life too. Some people even write out imaginary obituaries as a way to think deeply about the life they want to lead. None of us can predict our end or the challenges we'll face throughout our lives, but we can think about how we want it to be and work to live up to that vision as much as possible. While a bit grim, this is a step towards positive living. Onward. 

Deficit vs Capacity Mindset

Too often we meet situations with a deficit mindset noticing what is wrong with a person, place, or situation. We have to train our minds to meet situations with a capacity minset thinking what promise and potential does this person, place, or situation hold. When we change our mindsets from a deficit perspective to a capacity perspective, everything begins to look better. This change is worth the effort. 

Life is not a race

As I listen to multiple individuals discuss the pandemic with relation to school, there is an errant theme that runs through the conversations, and that theme is one that likens life to a road race. When we hear people discuss catching up, gaining momentum, coming out ahead, making the grade, being in the advanced group, and completing expected learning, those words compare learning to a road race with  winners and losers. Honestly, life is not a race. In the end, we all end up in the same place. Life, instead, is a journey with a lot of predictable events and some unpredictable occurances as well.

So what if Americans, changed their education as a race metaphor to an education as good living metaphor--how would that change the way people discussed education during a pandemic.

First of all, I don't think anyone would be thinking about putting young children in robot-like rows or relegated to a computer screen all day. Good living is active, imaginative, engaging, and empowering. Relegated to stationary, passive learning is not good living at all. Good living instead includes active, exploratory adventures such as planting gardens and producing beautiful, tasty, healthy food to enjoy and share with others. 

Next, no one would put children or anyone in situations where there is a grave threat of illness or contagion. Good living is healthy living, and everyone would work for as healthy as possible decisions.

And, the focus would be on the elements of good living including reading great books, writing wonderful letters and stories, investigating thought-provoking questions, inventing, cooking, fixing, making, planting, hiking, and exploring. 

Further the focus would be on elevating every Americans ability to live well with good homes, beautiful safe neighborhoods, wonderful nutritious foods, healthy positive recreation, and empowering educational opportunities.

I'm not sure how the road race metaphor ingrained itself so deeply in society--perhaps it goes all the way back to days when early humans had to outrace dangerous predators or be the first to get the good catch. Times, in my opinion have changed, and it's not about the race anymore, but instead about the wonderful journey that good living holds. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Capacity is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot in education, but what does it really mean when it comes to good teaching, good learning, and good living?

What is capacity and why is it important?

Dictionary definitions point to capacity as how much you can contain and how much you can produce. 

The word, capacity, came to mind today as I recognized that I suddenly had increased capacity to be who I want to be and to give in ways that I want to give. This felt great. Earlier in the summer, my capacity to be that person or to give was greatly dimished. I recognized this powerful shift, and wondered about how we might reflect on this word in order to create shifts in capacity related to containing and producing in ways that uplift and elevate life for ourselves and for others.

Learning capacity
Educators desire that students learn in productive, positive ways. They want their learners to hold on to or contain good information that supports success and good living. How can reflecting on what capacity is help educators to heighten a student's capacity for good learning? What might they do?

Holistic assessment leads to increasing an individual's capacity for successful learning. Thinking about who the child is and what support their good learning and what stands in the way helps us to increase a child's capacity for learning. 

Teaching capacity
When we think about how we develop our capacity to teach well, it's important to think deeply about what enriches that capacity and what depletes that capacity. Before that question, however, you do need to define what good teaching is and what it entails--what do you need to do to teach well. Too often that question is not clearly answered by individuals or educational groups. When the question of what you need to teach well is left blurry, the objective of best possible capacity will be left unfulfilled. 

Specifically, at this time, as educators think about best teaching during a pandemic, it's important to outline what that means including areas to emphasize and areas to leave for the post-pandemic days. For example, to foster a nation of readers is one way we can empower a positive education for all during a pandemic.

Living capacity
What creates our capacity for living good lives? What can we work for so that we increase our ability to contain the energy, vision, and motivation for good living, and then use that capacity to produce actions that reflect good living? What can we do?

As with good teaching, it is important to identify what it means to live a good life. While our definitions will vary a lot, there will be some consistent themes such as good health, a comfortable home, nutritous healthy food, positive relationships, and an overall sense of well being. 

Once we've identified what matters for us, we need to make a list of life factors that contribute to our capacity for good living and life factors that detract from that capacity. Then we have to work towards building our capacity for good living. That will makes us stronger and happier.

Capacity is an awesome concept when you really stop to consider what it means. It takes complex questions and really culls them down to a manageable process and set of steps. 

I look forward to think more on this concept in the days to come. In the meantime, if you have anything to add, please do. 

Education leaders: Make the right choice

A pandemic rages throughout the globe.

How should educational leaders react?

They should make the right choice by putting the safety of students, teachers, and families first.

We are fortunate to live at a time when children can learn at home via technology--the tools exist to teach children every subject in safe, virus-free ways in their homes. This is amazing. During the pandemic, educational institutions everywhere can elevate the frequency and quality of these tools to teach children well. 

How can families support this kind of learning without experience, when they have to work, and if they have multiple children of different ages?

This is a challenge, and I suggest that the nation give every family that makes $200,000 or less with children under 12 a hardy childcare stipend to support their need for childcare during this time. Families can choose to use the stipend to afford to stay home and work with their children or they can hire a familly member or someone else to support their children during this time. That money can be considered an investment in strengthening family life throughout the country. That money will also serve to support women well since women in general take on most childcare and teaching responsibilities. 

What will be the long term gain of a plan like this?

The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that schools have become a catch-all for society's problems and neglect. That fact has challenged schools' abilities to educate because education institutions are not families or parents--educational institutions are centers for dynamic learning and teaching. I believe that we need to either disconnect schools from the many social services they provide, or even better, broaden what we know as school into family heath and education centers. If we do that, we can recognize that communities need food centers, social service centers, and mental/physical health centers that are easily accessible and affordable. These centers would serve all family members including students, and would operate in conjunction with schools, but separate from schools. That means when school closes, students and their family members still have ready access to health care, social services, and nutrition--schools alone should not be the center of all those services, and those services need to serve whole families together--that's the best way to develop strong families, which in turn will result in strong, supported, ready-to-learn students.

Pandemic promise
The pandemic has laid bare the inequities and neglect in society. Clearly many organizations and services for families have not been developed appropriately over time. Thus we see too many families in need of essential health care, nutrition, homes, education, and social services. We can clearly do better by America's families in so many ways, and this pandemic gives us time to focus on these needs in the following ways:
  • Rethink and support dynamic childcare models that represent the BEST supports for healthy children and healthy families. We can do this better--we can do this in ways that create successful, happy, and healthy families.
  • Rethink and support dynamic education institutions that teach children in a large variety of worthy ways that elevate student, teacher, family health and success. 
  • Rethink and support healthy, peaceful, productive communities that include good homes, accessible health care, nutrition, and social services, healthy recreation options, and environmentally positive policies and actions. 
In other words, the promise of this pandemic is to elevate the way we can live in peaceful, healthy, successful ways. We can do this by making sure that our policies, economy, laws, and investments support good living. Let's tackle the inequity that the pandemic has laid bare, and make better. We can do this. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

If I had to do it over again; what would I change

If I had a re-do of my teaching career, there are aspects of my work I would keep the same and aspects I would change. I am writing this mostly for teachers who are new to the profession, but some veteran teachers may gain some good ideas from reading this too. 

What would I change?

Retirement savings
A wise colleague many years ago convinced me to start a 403B account. I did that, and I am very glad that I had some extra savings. My regret is that I didn't put the maximum into that account from the start. You hardly miss the money you put away prior to receiving your paycheck, and it really comes in handy later on. So my advice is that every teacher have a 403B account and that every teacher put the maximum into it. You won't regret that.

Professional learning
I continually invested in all kinds of professional learning throughout my career. That kept the job fresh and rewarding--I was able to employ new research and new ideas regularly which helped me to teach well and helped my students to learn well. My one regret here is that I didn't get all those extra credits under one big umbrella such as a doctorate or a specialist degree--that's what I'd recommend.

Content creation
Over my tenure I created hundreds and maybe even thousands of lessons. I essentially wrote my own mini books to go with each unit and updated those books every year to match my students' needs and interests. I have many, many files that will soon be erased on the school computer. I wish I had created a good infrastructure for all that work on my own computer accounts--the kind of infrastructure that could essentially be easily turned into books to share, or perhaps, even publish. I hate to see most of that work go to waste as it represents substantial research and tried-and-true learning experiences that were successful. I suppose I could cull those hundreds of files, but I simply don't have the energy or motivation to do that now. Plus I suspect I'm headed in a new direction, so that information wouldn't be useful to me in my future roles. So my advice is to create a good infrastructure for all that research, writing, and content creation you do. That's valuable work that can keep on giving after your teaching career. I do have my blogs, however, which I'm happy to have, but unfortunately many of the links will no longer work.

Speak up and work for betterment
I did speak up and work for betterment. I wish I was a little more successful with this, but there were some successes with regard to my will to change school structures and elevate teacher leadership. I will be rooting from the sidelines for teachers to keep up that advocacy in order to make schools more equitable, positive, and successful centers for teaching and learning.

Keep the balance
Like many teachers, I worked around the clock. I gave my heart and soul to my work. I'm proud of that, but my advice is to keep a healthy balance. Do the required work to the best of your ability, but don't give up on your personal needs and interests--that's what makes life meaningful and that makes you a better teacher too. I'm happy that I always put family first, but now in hindsight, I advise not working around the clock, but instead, keeping a good professional commitment that matches the expectations for the job.

Seek help when you need it
Teachers are not superhuman--there will be times when you need help, don't be afraid to seek that help.

Know your contract
Teachers' unions are critical to the profession simply because teachers are very busy and don't have the time to advocate for what they need on their own. We need our unions and we need our contracts. Study your contract, join your local union, and stay active. When all union members are involved, teachers are treated better and enjoy better pay and better working conditions. This is essential to doing your best work by the students and their families.

There are many that will to infantize and belittle teachers. The way they speak about and to teachers is oppressive and negative. It is important for every educator to stand up and advocate for professional respect and support--the job of education is critical to the welfare of the country and world. Educators are important people who need to manage their careers in ways that support themselves and the students and families they serve. 

Retirement: There's an element of anger

I must admit that my retirement includes an element of anger that I have to analyze and put to good work. A long time ago I learned that anger actually creates a lot of energy, and if you forward that anger energy into good work, the anger subsides and you've actually accomplished something worthwhile. That's a win-win. Typically anger at home is best used for house cleaning--I've been able to complete some totally univiting projects when angered.

So what do I do with the anger that accompanies my retirement. I believe it is best used to write about what created that anger so, perhaps, someone will read it and make positive change.

Unheard; Unacknowledged
When COVID-19 struck and schools were closed, I did not listen to state- or system- leadership when they told us not to teach new curriculum and focus only on SEL. I also didn't listen to what exactly they said about what to teach or how to teach. I didn't listen because I didn't believe in what they were saying. I knew that our team had created an awesome teaching/learning infrastructure, and I knew that if we didn't continue the good work we were doing, our students would lose out. I knew our students were ready for new learning and I knew that a lot of what people were telling me to teach, my students had already learned. Too many decision makers were giving directives with a one-size-fits-all mindset, yet we had been teaching with a personalized approach all year. We knew that what's right for one student was not right for another, and when COVID-19 struck, we continued our personalized instructional focus online. We kept the momentum going and included all the typical teaching in virtual ways. It was a successful spring semester.

So when I began to listen to decision makers discuss plans for the fall, I became dismayed. It became clear that few to none noticed or understood what we did. So I wrote a number of letters filled with evidence of the good work we did as well as ideas for the fall. In general, my letters were both misunderstood and ignored. I wasn't surprised because those distanced from classroom life often ignore practioners--they often think of us as follow-the-leader workers and less educated than others. They discount our years of professional learning, multiple degrees, good educations, and experience in favor of their own perspective which often include their own school experiences and the experiences of their children.

As a big fan of teacher leadership and inclusive, holistic, collaborative education models, you can imagine that this posed a huge dilemma for me. Of course I became angry that no one listened or recognized the work my team and I did. I literally worked around the clock all spring to make the learning successful. I knew where we had to improve to make it even better, but no one really cared. And when plans were discussed, I realized more and more that I could not teach in the environments proposed--environments that were unsafe and not child-friendly--artificial environments that were more like warehouses than teaching and learning campuses. So I retired.

Fortunately, I could retire without great hardship. My children are older. I've taught for a long time, and I can afford to retire. I did take a substantial monetary hit, but I felt the money lost was worth the stress, health, and potential saved. I have a long list of pursuits to invest in, and I can begin working on that list now. 

Some of my colleagues are not in the position I am in. Some of my colleagues are afraid. They are afraid of risking their health and lives. They are afraid of what they'll do with and for their own families. They are afraid of the artificial structures they may face in the fall. They are afraid of the lack of leadership and care that exists with regard to their work as professional educators. They are afraid to speak up because they don't want to lose their jobs and their ability to provide for their loved ones. They are afraid because they don't want to subject little children to the harsh, unfriendly environments.

I can speak up for my colleagues. I can lobby and advocate for safe, inclusive, teacher/student-friendly learning during a pandemic. I can write about win-win solutions that don't put lives at risk and still promote positive, child-friendly educations. These kinds of solutions exist, and are the only good solutions for the fall and perhaps the entire year as the country faces this pandemic and works for a healthy solution. 

Anger resolved
This isn't the first time I've been angry as a teacher because I was unacknowledge, ignored, oppressed, and talked down to. Teachers know this is a major problem in the profession. The profession needs to be reimagined and reworked so that the practioners have voice and choice--so that teachers everywhere can use their good educations and love of learning and children to work with conditions for excellence and fair pay. The system I worked in had actually embraced many positive and novel systems of teacher leadership in the past few years. Conditions had improved in multiple ways. In fact, the last three years of my career were the best years of teaching for me since we had a terrific model and I worked with amazing educators. In that regard, I am going out on a high note. I love what did with and for students in those last three years and I loved the plans we had going forward. 

For some reason, though, the pandemic made people forget a lot about what good education means. They also forgot about the expertise teachers bring to the job, and the natural needs and interests of children. In a sense, I think that many decision makers have panicked rather than take a systematic, smart approach to the problem. They're obsessed with the short term situation rather than taking a long-term view. They appear to be quick to squander dollars on short-term, environmentally unsound, and educataionally defunct soultions rather than invest in solutions that have long term gain. This is worrisome. 

I understand that everyone is facing this issue for the first time and they don't know what to do, but everyone needs to take the long view and do what's right looking down the road one year, five years, and ten years. What's right includes the following:
  1. Protect lives with good safe choices and financial support for those in need
  2. Invest in education that is positive and can happen such as daily reading, writing, math practice, and social studies/science project work--this all can be done virtually
  3. Update school campuses while children are learning remotely--take that time to clean up school buildings and make the environments safer and more inviting
  4. Develop educators' ability to teach with technology at this time
  5. Support families' abilities to support their children's education
  6. Advocate for healthy, positive recreation in every community 
  7. Look for ways to provide safe, healthy social experiences for children
There continues to be so many ways to take the long term view of what's best for people in schools and communities during this pandemic. The pandemic has not only taken and injured lives, but it has laid bare society's failings--for too long, society has ignored the needs of everyday people, and a win-win solution at this time is to reimagine the ways we can support schools. health care institutions, communities, and families. That is a positive response to the problems the pandemic holds. 

Back to school?

The back to school decisions for the fall are big, tough decisions, but bottom line--why would you put the lives of many at risk for a relatively short-term problem. Instead, choose safety first.

How can you promote safe, doable decisions for the fall?

Robust, remote education
In general, America's schools are outdated, underfunded, and neglected. This left schools unready for pandemic response. In general, America's classrooms don't have the infrastructure to school children safely during a pandemic. With that knowledge, the only safe response is remote teaching. 

Focus on what you can do
Rather than trying to replicate schools as we know them online, it's better to focus on what you can do well during this time. Some focus areas that should take priority as part of robust remote teaching and learning should be the following:
  • Read, read, read--all students should be required to read on average one or more books a week. Those books may be accessed online, in real time, and via recordings. If all of America's students were reading one or more books a week, all students and our entire country would profit.
  • Most educators should be coaching small groups of children--match qualified educators with small groups of children to forward a daily schedule of reading, writing, math, and social studies/science exploration. Teachers can do this, and children will be inspired.
Give every student in America a quality tech device and WIFI
The nation can do this and should do this.

Provide every family that makes under $200,000 a year and has children 12 and under with a substantial childcare stipend
Our children are our future, as a nation, we should financially support those children and families during this pandemic. Families can choose to use their stipends to stay home, hire a family member or neighbor, or pay for emergency childcare centers.These stipends also have the potential of invigorating family life.

Create emergency childcare centers
Massachusetts successfully created emergency childcare centers in the spring. School systems can merge resources to create these centers to support children who cannot stay at home in safe, supportive ways. 

Create social service centers rather than continue to see school as the social service agency
Create nutrition, health, and mental health support centers in every community to help families get the help they need.

Elevate healthy recreation
Find ways to elevate access to healthy recreation--the kind of recreation that gets people outdoors in healthy, positive ways. 

America's misguided decisions, analysis, and rhetoric related to bringing students back to school during a pandemic lack imagination, focus, and a positive scientific lens on what it means to live during a pandemic. There are win-win solutions for this problem, but these win-win solutions require the investment of all Americans. We can do better and I hope we do. 

Prepare for next steps

As my current public school teaching position ends, it's time to wrap up the closure and prepare for the next position. What does this entail?

Classroom clean-up/School ending
My classroom is mostly ready for the next teacher. I simply have to toss some paperwork, collect a few personal items, and organize a few cabinets. I suspect that will equal about one day's work. My school computer is almost dead after many years of 24-7 use. I'll return that machine and a few others. There's some paperwork to complete as well. 

House clean-up/organization
It's time to reorganize my home for this new chapter which involves cleaning up a number of closets, drawers, and the garage (yes, I've procrastinated on that job) always with the theme, "Less things, more time."

There's a number of health factors to attend to in the days ahead. One reason I retired was to take good care of my health, so I want to make sure I do that.

I will be interested to see what the next position will be, but until then, it's time to prepare for that transition with the actions above. Onward. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Turning the page

If you follow my blog, you know I made the decision to retire. I'm busy putting the paperwork in order and reviewing the decision pros and cons. I'll be frank, it's an expensive decision. If I waited two more years, my benefits and pension would be greater. I know how expensive this decision has been. In fact, it has been the most expensive decision of my life. 

Why would I choose to lose out on that much money--money that would serve my family and me well in the days to come?

Life or death
Though some think this is dramatic, the reality is that this was a life or death decision. I asked for a remote teaching position given my age and some underlying conditions, but I never received an answer and the responses I did receive inferred that a remote position would not be available. I provided many suggestions about how to do the job safely in the fall, but my ideas were mostly met with little response or support. Finally, when my time was being usurped by anxiety at the prospects of having to teach in an unsafe and educationally unsound situation, I decided to retire knowing that there was a short window for me to get my paperwork in without incurring another financial penalty.

Was this a rash decision? Bottom line is that I could have easily contracted COVID-19. Teaching is a stressful job under normal circumstances, and it is going to be more stressful during a pandemic. That kind of stress lowers your immune system. Further, children are active, and there's no way that I can imagine a teacher always staying six-feet away from students who need you for simple matters like zipping up a coat and more complex matters like helping them when they have an accident or throw up in the classroom. There's a chance that if I contracted the illness, I would be fine, but there's also a chance that I could die--I don't want to die, thus the expensive decision.

Good teaching
I am a big fan of optimal education. I believe that a good education empowers and enriches lives. I love to teach in meaningful, powerful ways. I listened to meeting after meeting about plans for the fall, and in every scenario, there was not discussion about deep and meaningful education. Instead the discussions focused on getting as many people into schools and following the minimum standards for safety. In my opinion, the discussions were more about warehousing children than true teaching or learning. I know myself. To return to a situation where I can't teach in rich and meaningful ways, would be very, very worrisome and frustrating. Children act up when they are in situations that don't foster meaningful, engaging, and empowering learning. They naturally react against artificial, limiting, and un-childlike situations. They would not see the decision makers as the people creating those unfriendly and difficult situations, but everyday they would look at me and blame me for the uncomfortable, unnatural situation they would be experiencing. That would be frustrating and stressful.

Logical decision making
Also, as I listened to discussion after discussion, I hear no logic. Instead I hear lots of tangental discussions. I likened it to a group of people building a new house--rather than starting with the house design, location, and foundation, the group perseverated on the faucets. If that were the case, the house would never be built. The discussions about the return-to-school seemed to be the same. Main factors were missing such as the threat of the pandemic and what children are really like. Instead discussions appeared to forget that a pandemic is raging and dismiss the fact that children are active, bright, playful learners, not robots.

Logical discussions, in my opinion, would include the following.

The main decision makers would make a choice for safest possible conditions to safeguard the lives of all people involved. After all, with the long view in mind, this is a short-term problem, and is it worth risking lives for an artificial, subpar educational decision, or is it better to save lives and boost good education too.

If I were a main decision maker, I would make the following decision:
Robust remote learning for all and emergency daycare for families that need it. I also believe that the nation should provide a hardy childcare stipend for every family that makes under $200,000 a year with children 12 and under. Emergency childcare could be staffed with those staff members who volunteer for that role--I suspect that a fair number of young, healthy staff would volunteer. Remote learning could be run by those who are willing to promote a vigorous online program that truly educates in meaningful ways. I believe this is a win-win solution. 

Then I would expect the leaders and educators in each group to use their expertise to plan the nuts and bolts of the program. They're the experts when it comes to teaching and caring for children, and other than providing a list of wide parameters and expectations, I would not worry about the details, but expect a good report about how the wide parameters and expectations were met.

At all times, I would be working for win-win, financially advantageous solutions that safeguard lives and continue to inspire educators and students. I would look for ways to support families as well  beginning with the emergency childcare option. I would rather not spend money on short term solutions where possible and invest that money into long term growth and development instead. 

So I've made an expensive decision. I wrote down the figure that this decision cost me, and I'll revisit that figure in one year, five years, and ten years to see if I still think it's worth it. I suspect I will be satisfied as I hope to find other ways to make the money I lost, and I am cognizant of other decisions I've made in life that were good financial decisions reaping me some good benefits over time.

We can never know 100% if our decisions are the best decisions. On the other hand, it's much easier to know 100% if we make bad decisions. For example, what if I went back and did die or become disabled--that clearly would have been a terrible decision. There are other decisions we have to stay clear of that I call the "Do Not Go There" list that definitely are bad decisions--we have to avoid those choices. 

I'm sure I'll continue to ruminate on this decision in the days to come, but I'm not going back on it. Onward. 

Retirement: emotions

I remember the emotions I felt when colleagues, friends, and family members retired. Those emotions ranged from sadness to anger and happiness too. Each time, my emotions depended on lots of related factors. My retirement announcement has elicited a similar range of responses. 

Like our dreams, our emotions help us to understand who we are and what we want. The way we react to our own experiences and the experiences and decisions of others tells us something about ourselves. What brings us extraordinary joy? What worries us? What energizes us? These questions help us to pinpoint the cause of our emotions, and the directions those emotions move us in.

As I consider the new horizon, I have to think about the past too.

In so many ways, it was the right time to retire. Last year was one of my best teaching years--it wasn't the easiest year of teaching, but as a team, we made many incredible gains in the program we offered and the learning experiences we provided for children. When COVID-19 struck, we rose to the challenge and did a very good job. I'm proud of that work and effort. 

The new chapter of teaching and learning during COVID-19 will require teachers to be very strong. The energy required to work against so many powers unfamiliar with what good teaching and learning looks like in order to teach well will be extraordinary. Teachers will face that in all kinds of ways. Some will simply go along, reserving their energy for post-COVID-19 teaching, and others will fight against unfriendly, unsafe, and poor working conditions for children and adults. How teachers face this challenge will vary depending on age, underlying risk factors, leadership actions, privilege, and more. It will be a messy time of teaching and learning.

Typically, messiness doesn't worry me, but messiness that involves risk to my life does worry me. I just could not take the chance at this time--I have too much that I want to do in the days ahead in life to take a chance like that. The story of the teacher in Arizona who passed away stuck with me--in many ways that teacher was just like me. I didn't want to put myself in a position of potential harm. So I weighed the pros and cons and decided to retire.

Of course, like any retiree, I'm filled with a large range of emotions. Of course, there's some anger. COVID-19 alone elicits anger on many levels--anger that our national leadership ignored pandemic warnings and didn't take this virus seriously. Had they acted with responsibility from the start, we would not be in the position we are in. The national response continues to be irresponsible and worrisome creating havoc with lives and the economy. There is also anger that many are ignoring teachers' voices about good, safe teaching in the fall--many distanced from classroom life think they know more about what happens in schools than educators. This is frustrating and worrisome. What's more infuriating is that some of those decision makers truly appear to not care whether some lives are lost or greatly compromised. And of course, there's anger about the confusion between childcare and education--too many want schools to open solely to provide childcare negating the value that a positive, child-centered education brings to every community. 

There's a level of guilt too with this decision. I care about the children, I care about my colleagues and I care about the school system. I am a good teacher who truly enjoys working with children. I had planned some amazing teaching efforts for the fall, and I will miss doing the work that I've done for so long. 

And of course, there is joy too. I've been working for almost 50 years--that's a long time. I'm looking forward to living a simple life until COVID-19 passes and then thinking about next steps. I truly enjoy helping people live good lives and suspect that I may end up teaching math to small groups of children or turning my love of research and writing into more formal articles and books. Though, often the plans I imagine change, so time will tell what truly happens. 

First, however, I'll do what I can to stay healthy, complete a number of unfinished tasks, and care for family members. I also hope to explore natural places at times when those places are less crowded which will be a treat, and I hope to spend more time with people I love. 

Retirement, like any big event in life, brings about a large range of emotions, and it's important to consider those emotions and let those emotions direct you in some ways. Onward. 


School dreams: retirement

I was on a busy school playground trying to find my classroom, but no one would help. It seemed like no one could see me. I was invisible. That describes my first retirement dream. Our minds are amazing in the way they put a number of unfinished thoughts into vivid brain videos that visualize and process those thoughts.

I take dreams seriously as there are typically nuggets of wisdom in dreams--another remarkable aspect of our minds. Often those vivid visualizations of unfinished thoughts point to the essence of those thoughts. The dream above clearly demonstrated that my place in life is a new place, not the old place. Pragmatists may say that's not surprising, but for someone like me that's always so curious about how the brain works, I think it's amazing.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Advocacy for better

Everywhere I look I see limitless potential for betterment. 

Too often, we resign ourselves to less than what is possible. We may do this because we're afraid, we don't use our imaginations, or we rush to decide rather than weigh the many paths possible. 

I am an individual who is rarely satisfied with mediocrity. I like to do things well, and I like to strive for the best possible solutions. 

Do I always hit the mark? No. But, do I reach for the best possible? Yes.

I knew that I could not go back to school in the fall because the limitations and risk factors were too great. With the plans set, I knew that I could not teach well. I also knew that I would risk my good health and become very frustrated by the multiple limitations at hand. I had many ideas about how we could return to the fall with win-win solutions, but no one wanted to listen to me. Instead, many distanced from classroom life, are making decisions on their own.

Knowing who I am and what I am striving to be, I knew that it was time to make a different choice and follow a new path. I considered the options. While I didn't want to jump ship, I did want to survive. I knew that I could retire given my age and my years, and I also know that from this vantage point I can work to advocate for what is needed to make America's schools rich centers of engaging, empowering, equitable, life-changing and enriching learning for all children. 

Teachers tasked with multiple, daily requirements and expectations, often do not have the energy or time to advocate for their own rights and needs. As modestly paid workers, they don't have the luxury of personal assistants, at-home help, and the extra finances to lobby hard on their own behalf. Yes, there are unions who work for teachers' rights, but teachers need even more advocacy in order to have what they need to do their jobs well.

Too often educators use their own time and money to boost what they can do for schools and students. They often do this because of the time-and-task factors involved. For example, if a teacher knows it is going to take her ten hours to complete the paperwork to buy a bucket of dice, the teacher may decide to spend the $20 from her own pocket to buy the dice and have them for a good teaching task rather than spend the ten hours on paperwork--ten hours that will put that teacher behind with regard to taking care of her students and her family. 

Also, many who lead teachers do not understand what they do. There is often a disconnect between decision makers and educators, and this creates a detrimental cavity that oppresses educators and limits the good work they can do. For example, a decision maker may feel that it's doable for a teacher wearing a mask and distanced six-feet from her students who are all sitting in rows facing front with masks on to teach well. Yet teachers know that to teach well requires proximity, movement, good communication, and collaboration. Teachers know that warehousing children is not a good strategy when it comes to optimal learning, but those decision makers distanced from the classroom don't know that as they rarely work with children. Another example of this is leaders who think that curriculum support means sending them lists of helpful websites. Those leaders don't understand that good teachers everywhere know how to access helpful links and websites, but what they really need is hands-on help with students--that's where the true potential exists for optimal teaching and learning.

The pandemic has laid bare society's failings in many, many ways. Inequitable housing, neighborhoods, health care, wealth, privilege, and supports are staring us in the face right now. In education, the difference between Trump's son's beautiful campus-school environment and crowded, run down, old school buildings that many children attend are stark. It doesn't have to be this way. It is time to advocate for better so that as a nation we can maximize the great potential that education holds for good, peaceful, positive living for all. We can do this. 

Learning Matters

As humans, we are natural learners.

To survive, we must learn, and so we move in that direction no matter what we do.

As I listen to people discuss school plans during a pandemic, they fret about learning. Yet, their definition of what learning is, and how it is measured is not inclusive, accurate, or helpful. 

Too many believe that learning is what happens when students are seated at desks in a classroom listening to a teacher, but as most educators know, that's probably where the least learning takes place.

True, rich, deep learning includes these ingredients:
  • A deep desire to know
  • A quest to find out
  • Mentors, research
  • Approximations, making, exploring, practice, reflection, revision, review, presentation
  • Questions--lots of questions
In the United States today, too many people are confused about the difference between child care and education. They don't realize that warehousing children in uncomfortable places does not inspire learning, but instead restricts the free flow of ideas and exploration that leads to rich, rewarding learning.

Yes, we have to take care of the nation's children--they can't be left alone without oversight, but good care and good education require elements that inspire and enrich, not elements that restrict and limit. 

The wealthiest Americans won't put their children in tight rows, facing front with masks on. They won't restrict their children to military style seating arrangements and guarded outdoor activities. Instead, those with the means, will ensure that their children continue to have rich, playful, engaging childhoods--they'll make sure that happens using their means to afford those kinds of settings. Their children will thrive.

Why can't the United States think and act like the families with the greatest means--why can't the United States ensure that every child has a playful, engaging, rich childhood whether there is a pandemic or not. 

The solution is simple. Provide every family in the United States with a substantial childcare stipend so they can ensure that their children have optimal care, and then support teachers and school systems so that they can use their knowledge about what it means to learn and live well to inspire awesome learning activities remotely while the pandemic surges. This trying time in the United States can be an enriching time too as we meet the potential to uplift families and education in the ways we can, ways that inspire and enrich children's lives rather than limit and imprison them. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The decision to retire

I've listened carefully to multiple leaders discuss school plans in the fall. I've also listened to national experts discuss the pandemic. I've weighed the pros and cons, and have decided to retire. As you can imagine, it is an emotional decision after 34 years of dedicated teaching.

Not only did I decide to retire, but I also made decisions about next steps that include healthy living, spending time with my elderly parents, celebrating a couple of very special family events, getting my house in order, and of course, finding ways to advocate for, and potentially work for, teachers and students in ways that promote recognition of the value that dedicated educators and well-educated students bring to our world. 

I have been proud to be an educator--it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I have been honored to work with many, many dedicated, committed, and extraordinary educators, students, families, and community members. I am grateful for the many, awesome mentors online and offline who have supported my work throughout my career. 

I have faith that this is the right decision at this time

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Discouraged at the lack of respect

The lack of respect for educators and education right now is very discouraging. I think this is the lowest point I've experienced in my career. It's a low point because the public discourse demonstrates a clear lack of respect for educators and education. As you can imagine, this is very disconcerting to those of us who have devoted our lives to this endeavor.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Tough Times for America's Teachers

When I was six years old, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I mainly made this decision because kindergarten was such a life changing event for me. I LOVED learning and I experienced what learning could do for your life.

Later, when a sibling experienced great struggle in school, I wanted to be a teacher more because I wanted to teach in ways that elevated lives rather than make children feel bad about their learning challenges. I wanted to help children experience the positivity I experienced in school.

I continued my education, went to college, worked in business, and later attended graduate school to fulfill my six-year-old dream to teach. Some family members were approving of my decision and others were disproving, but I was convinced it was the right career path for me.

So for the past 34 years I've been teaching. I worked hard every day of my teaching career. I spent considerable time and money honing my craft throughout those years. In many ways, I was obsessed with the limitless proposition teaching presented as there were so many ways to do it better, learn more, and craft amazing learning experiences for students.

Throughout my career, I also always struggled with many education managers. My will to make change, try out new ideas, and better our approach was often met with lack of support and pushback. It was often discouraging and at one point almost career-ending due to the oppressive, mean, and unfair treatment I received, but I persisted. While not perfect, my intentions were always good and I was willing to learn. I was not willing to sell my values to prop up someone's ambition with support for unjust, misdirected, and poor decisions and actions. I am proud that I was able to stick by my values, own my errors, and continue learning and doing my best.

Throughout my career, it has also been apparent that many don't respect or reward teachers. Lip service comes easy, but when it comes to optimal pay, apt working conditions, and substantial support, that's like milking a rock--people don't want to support teachers. Never has this been so clear as the current national discussions related to sending teachers back to work in unsafe conditions during a pandemic. The national conversation is depressing and heartbreaking. Rather than a typical teacher's summer of honing skills and readying for the year ahead, teachers everywhere are upset, worried, and making new plans. It is one more sad reality in America today--one more loss during the terrorizing Trump years.

That said, I am proud of my choice to be a teacher. Has it ended as I hoped--no. I wish I could have left the profession better than when I started, but unfortunately the political and corporate pressures to dumb down America and create an ignorant servant class are as strong as a tsunami right now. Few to none seem to regard education as the life-enriching, life-changing asset that it is. This is very sad. However, I am proud because I always did my best to teach and serve children well. I still believe that education is a tremendous, enriching, and essential aspect to living--a well educated populace is a more peaceful and happier populace.

In the next few weeks, I'll decide my next steps. I'm listening carefully to the conversations about what to do with and for teachers, and while there's a ray of hope here and there, the dialogue is mostly scary, dangerous, and unsupportive. Clearly, people don't really care about teachers or education. If they did, the national conversation would be much different.

It's tough times for America's teachers. What will they do? Time will tell.

Lost in the weeds; poor educational leadership

Too many are lost in the weeds rather than facing the Pandemic in a systematic, humane way.

An understandable metaphor might be two people arguing over what kind of ketchup to have at a family cook-out rather than facing the discussion about keeping one another safe from COVID-19 spread. People arguing over ketchup are lost in the weeds.

An education comparison might be people arguing over what is taught rather than recognizing that COVID-19 limitations create an artificial, unfriendly, and bogus learning environment. Who can teach with a mask on distanced six feet from their students? Teachers know that when they can't get close to students, they fool around and do what every they want. The dance we do throughout good lessons of moving in and out from students with proximity, voice, and activities is what makes a classroom a dynamic learning environment. A stationary teacher placed six feet away from children who are likely squished into the backs and corners of classroom with the expectations that they are facing front, wearing masks, and not touching each other is a bogus, warehouse-like situation, not a dynamic learning environment.

In tough times, the true leaders do not get lost in the weeds. Dr. Fauci is a good example of a leader who resists the weeds and stays focused on the important focus related to this pandemic--the important focus of saving lives and ridding society of this pandemic threat.

Sadly many teachers, students, and families' lives are impacted by the many leaders who are lost in the weeds. Those lives will be greatly affected by this.

In my opinion, a move to 100% remote learning will provide students, families, and educators with lifelong skills that will benefit their lives. This is safe and positive. I also believe that the country needs to provide a childcare stipend to every family that needs it to either support staying home or hiring good childcare. That to me is the win-win solution.

I will not lose my life because many are lost in the weeds. Sadly, my life will be impacted by this, but I'll take my chances and make the safe choice. Onward.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Making sense of powerful sentences

As a learner, I know that there are multiple levels of understanding. There many writers out there that provide a great reach for me, and there are others that I can quickly grasp. I am hopefully continually leveling up with regard to understanding in order to live well and do good work.

David Culberhouse is one of my favorite thought leaders. He's definitely a futurist who knows what we need to get ahead. His extensive research is tremendously valuable, yet he requires reach which many don't want to do.

Following David on Twitter provides me with glimpses of wisdom to dissect. The tweet he wrote today is awesome, and I want to dissect it with respect to my work.


I'm sure that David means ease here as well as definition two which makes me think of the shared model of teaching I'm involved in. We divide tasks, we use short phases of work, we reflect and revise regularly. I would say we're an agile team. I too use systems of agility to do my work.

Adaptable toward the future
I want us to embrace these words. Too often we do not see the potential in a problem, too often we solve problems for a world that no longer exists. To be adaptable toward the future, we have to be aware of what the future holds and where we are going. We have to stay abreast of this information and weave it into our everyday work.

Braiding design, systems, and future thinking
This weave lights up my mind with all kinds of colorful imaginings. Of course to do this we have to be systems thinkers who create efficient, flexible systems of thought and action which brings to mind the way buildings are built to withstand earthquakes--we want to keep our organizations in tack, but we need to be able to move with the movement that's happening all around us. As I think of schools facing the pandemic crisis, I think we can use these words to build for the future by identifying the systems that exist in our systems, revising as needed and braiding those systems together in loose-tight ways to design a solution to the problem--a dynamic solution of remote teaching and learning rather than a stagnant sit-at-your-desks, face forward, wear a mask and don't move solution which is inhuman. Why is no college or business relegating their employees to that system--it's because they know it's unproductive, backwards, and inhumane.

While engaging continuous improvement
To continually improve you have to know what you've accomplished, what's left to do, and where you want to go. Without a vision, you cannot improve. Without an understanding of where we are headed as a people and the values you hold about that direction, you can't improve. So these words beg you to think about who you want to be as an individual and an organization and what values do you want to uphold as you make the decisions you make and do the the work you do.

Equity lens
Where is it unequal in your home, community, school, or business. What can you do to make it more equal. For me this begs me to look for ways to improve the circumstances of my students who have inadequate homes, incomes, neighborhoods, food, and other supports. Let's make sure that every American family has what they need to live a good life. I have to think more about how I will make that happen. During the pandemic we can start with a childcare stipend for every family that needs it--a good, hardy childcare stipend that helps families take good care of their children everywhere.

Ongoing iteration and constantly reframing
I use this process for my own work, but I believe most systems haven't updated their reflection, assessment, revision, and vision setting processes to be more dynamic, ongoing, and a match for the modern world. That is why people are spending so much wasted time on this pandemic response--they are not accustom to pivoting quickly and meaningfully.  This pandemic problem gives individuals and systems a chance to try out new iteration and reframing processes to make positive decisions based on equity, humanity, and futuristic thinking.

I will likely return to these notes later. I highly regard Culberhouse's research and depth. He is definitely a go-to leader for organizations great and small throughout the world. Thanks David!

All school and no play

I can sometimes be accused of being All school and no play by family members and colleagues.

Why the obsession?

Bottom line: I like to do a good job, and I find great pleasure in improving what I can do. I've always thought of teaching as a giant math problem, one I continually try to solve in ways that maximize what we do to support children in the best possible ways.

I typically use the summer months to research, read, and improve parts of the program and my abilities to each year is better than the year before. I like this process of betterment. It brings me great satisfaction to weave new research and understanding into the existing program.

That said, however, to be All school and not play can make one rather dull both in the classroom and at home, so you do have to strive for that just right balance. Typically I find that balance with summer adventure and travel which is somewhat limited this year, yet I'll still strive to find days to remove myself from this summer's school challenges and questions.

This summer's pandemic challenges make it a different kind of summer. Rather than spending my time honing the curriculum program, booking field trips, updating the classroom, and studying with other educators, I'm mainly spending my time researching and advocating for a safe, successful remote teaching program in the fall. I don't believe a return to school in almost any way is safe. The only safe return I can think of is to have one or two teachers return to teach a very small number of children who have specific needs, other than that, I believe that almost all teaching should be remote to ensure the safety of students, families, and educators. If we take the long view, remote teaching will keep people safe, save money, and enrich everyone's ability to boost lifelong learning and technological skill. A move to remote teaching, if well supported by government and community agencies, can double as a way to boost strong family life in the country too. This will be particularly doable if the government offers families a childcare stipend to use as they wish to provide quality childcare for their children.

So while I agree that I can, at times, be All school and no play, it's difficult for me to relax or plan for the year ahead without a safe, healthy decision for a remote teaching/learning schedule. Once that decision is made, I can move on to planning for a robust remote plan. If a different decision is made, I may need to direct my research in another direction, a direction that keeps me safe from the risk that school attendance may bring. Onward.

Take time to treat your teaching job as a business

Many educators like me make lots of time to serve children well, but not enough time to review the business aspects of their work. This puts educators at a disadvantage when it comes to their financial welfare. How can teachers be wise business people when it comes to managing their careers?

Study your paycheck
Time and again teachers have found that they were underpaid. There are also cases where teachers were overpaid and then asked to repay large amounts of money. Sadly, teachers' paychecks may be incorrect and this will cost teachers money. We all have to read our paychecks regularly to make sure those paychecks are accurate.

File your contract, paychecks, and other professional documents 
Often educators are so busy that they don't make time to carefully organize and file documents either online or offline. That puts educators at a disadvantage. I've known teachers who have paid a lot of money to take a professional course, but then when it comes time for reimbursement, they can't find the documents needed so they lose that money. This mostly occurs because teachers typically are very, very busy with little time for this paperwork organization.

Read your contract
No one will remind you of your contractual rights if it is to their advantage for you not to know those rights. Know your rights. Your contract matters.

Work to increase your place on the pay scale
Many teachers simply don't take the time to review the pay scale and think about ways to get to the top of the scale. Many years ago, I quit a doctoral program to take care of my new baby. In hindsight, it would have been a better investment to get a loan for some extra child care and finish the program. That would have resulted in more money every year of my career and into retirement. To increase on the pay scale, I suggest you do the following:

  • Work for the system that pays the most
  • Study the pay scale and figure out how you can grow on that pay scale in ways that increase your professional skill and knowledge and ways that are the most cost efficient
  • Rather than take a hodge-podge of courses, engage in a new degree or certificate program. This will make you more marketable and give you greater flexibility. For example, if you have a degree in general teaching, you might want your next degree to specialize in coaching or supervision. 
  • Look for the biggest bang for your buck--programs that result in many credits for a good price. Often free professional study opportunities are offered. For example, I became nationally certified, in part, because the state offered a financial incentive to this certification. That helped me to earn the certification and a rise on the salary scale too. National certification also gives you flexibility to move from one state to another with regard to teaching in some cases--you have to explore where this is possible and where it is not.
  • Keep track of your records.
  • Grow on the pay scale as high as you can go as early in your career as you can.
Establish and nurture a high-quality, Professional Learning Network (PLN) online and in real time
Via social media and in-person events, establish a professional circle of inspiring, knowledgeable, and skilled educators. That PLN will be an invaluable resource to you when it comes to good ideas, advice, connections, and more.

Track your progress via a digital portfolio
Teachers' lives are very busy. It's easy to lose track of all that you do. Create a digital portfolio to collect evidence of all that you do. This portfolio can help you when you want to submit a request to present at a conference or apply for a new position. Your digital portfolio is also a great point of reflection about your professional goals and direction. I include my yearly goals and progress towards those goals in my portfolio too. That has helped me to work towards better learning and teaching year after year. 

Invest your money; save your money
A long time ago, a veteran colleague inspired me to put away a few dollars each pay check into a 403B. I took her advice, and I am so glad that I did yet I wish I put more away. Due to tax laws, when you put that money away, you hardly feel the pinch and later on, when your children are older and you are older too, that money will be very helpful. I think it's best to put away the maximum allowed if possible. It is also positive to read up on investments, and consider the advice out there about the different kinds of investment accounts you can establish. 

Make wise financial decisions
Looking back, I made some good and not so good financial decisions. Once I offered to work for sub pay so that I could gain a desirable position that afforded me more time with my children. Looking back, not only was that against contract, it also was against my best interests financially. The system should have alerted me to the problems with this, but since it was a win-win for them to get a professional teacher at a cut rate, they didn't speak up. Another time, I took a part-time position rather than a full-time position. Since the position didn't pay enough for me to pay the bills, I ended up taking a number of part time jobs to pay the bills. In hindsight, I would have been better off staying with the full time position which paid more overall and would have been better for me when it came to retirement calculations. The lesson here is to take the long view, and while those views don't always work out, it's important to try to plan for your financial future with wise choices. 

Teachers, first and foremost, mostly think about their jobs as vocations. That's why they spend their own money to support students and classrooms and that's why they work long hours after hours and over the summer to support their work. Unlike other professions that charge for their time, teachers just work and work and work. We like our jobs and we like to do a good job, but we have to be smart too and treat our jobs as a business at times to make sure that we are financially healthy and work with the best possible work conditions. 

Maximize the potential that problems present

The pandemic is a problem.

This problem has potential.

We can identify that potential and maximize its benefits.

One potential the pandemic holds is to elevate teachers, parents, and students' ability to develop lifelong learning mindsets, behaviors, knowledge, and skill.

Another potential the pandemic holds is the potential to uplift the role of and support for families in American society. Strengthening the American family would result in a stronger, more unified, and happier nation.

Strengthen the American family
Family is center stage during this pandemic. We are spending more time with our family members than ever before. We know that strong families are advantageous in many, many ways. We can look for ways to support the American family during this pandemic. That will help people to be safe, supported, and happy during this difficult time.

What can we do for the American family?
  • Provide a childcare stipend for every American family with young children
  • Eliminate college loans for every American family
  • Support every family's ability to grow their own food via support for backyard and/or container gardens.
  • Elevate opportunities for safe, healthy, outdoor family recreation
  • Make sure that every family has access to affordable, quality, safe homes, food, neighborhoods, learning, and health care 
  • Create readily accessible counseling to help families 
Robust remote teaching and learning
Utilize the nation's terrific team of teachers throughout the country to forward a robust teaching and learning infrastructure that includes the following:
  • Sharing the best possible pedagogy and information for boosting American students' lifelong learning mindsets, behaviors, and skills.
  • WIFI for all American families and students
  • A quality tech device for every American student
  • Access to school supplies for families who may not be able to provide those supplies
  • Strengthening librarian support to every family, and their abilities to provide access to online books 
  • Daily robust standards-based, engaging learning programs for every child
  • Promotion of nation-wide share amongst educators to develop our collective skills and abilities to forward robust remote programs
  • Education program for every American family who needs it to boost their technological skills and access
To boost the American family and our ability to support every child's ability to develop lifelong learning mindsets, behaviors, and skill will be a win-win for this country during the pandemic. Let's maximize the potential that this pandemic problem presents. 

Imagine what remote learning could look like

As I imagine best possible remote learning for September, I am imagining the following.

A Positive Schedule
Together with colleagues, we would craft a positive week of learning and teaching that would probably include the following learning efforts each day.
  • Morning meeting 
  • Math class: small group math instruction with follow-up practice and project work
  • Book group: small group of readers meeting with a teacher or teaching assistant to engage with a good book and a focus on needed, valuable reading skills and strategies
  • Writing class: Whole grade level introduction to writing project, followed up by small writing coaching groups led by a teacher or teaching assistant
  • Read Aloud: Time in the day to listen to the grade-level read aloud online with follow-up activity to prepare for grade-level reading discussion online and offline
  • Science/Social Studies: A whole grade level introduction to a topic with follow-up independent, small group, and whole class activities
  • Specialist study: Lesson(s) by specialist teachers
This schedule would be as long as a typical school day.

Positive learning space
Children would be encouraged to create a positive learning space at their home. Teachers would discuss this space creation with students during the morning meeting.

Digital Portfolios
Students will create digital portfolios with teacher support. They will use these portfolios as points of reflection as teachers coach them to lead their learning with proactive mindsets, routines, self-coaching, and awesome brain-based learning strategies. Teachers would use the digital portfolios as points of assessment and reflection to determine how students are doing and what else they need. 

Practice and Project Time
Students would be expected to practice their learning skills daily with a number of varied practice activities. As much as possible, students will be asked to learn offline too. Students will be asked to demonstrate their offline learning with photos, videos, audio recordings, and written reflections.

Using strategies similar to colleges, students will be asked to take formative assessments regularly as one way for teachers to monitor progress of individual students and the group. These assessments will help students to reflect on the teaching program and make needed revisions to ensure that the learning is robust.

Unit study will end with doable celebrations--this highlights the joy of positive learning. 

Teacher Meetings
Regular staff meetings, professional learning community meetings, and grade-level teacher meetings will be a mainstay of the week.

Parent-child-teacher meetings
Similar to in-school schedules, some kind of parent-child-teacher meeting would occur in the fall.

Special Needs and Counseling
Special educators and counselors will work with teachers, families, and students as needed and in ways that they can safely support children and families.

Potential outside meetings
There is the potential that small groups of students and teachers could meet from time to time for a safe, social distanced nature hike or outdoor exploration of another kind. 

Healthy remote learning and teaching

News articles make me wonder if some families are struggling with how to handle remote teaching and learning.

Some of the worries relate to compliance rather than good learning. For example, I read a comment by a scientist made about her son's learning--she said he was way behind and that the work piled up. It may be that all that work is not just-right learning for that child. She mentioned that his learning disability, a disability often connects with good energy and intelligence which left me wondering if the parent was more concerned with compliance than education.

How can you ensure that your child is happy and successful with regard to remote learning?

Family cohorts
If possible, I recommend joining with one or two other families so that you can help one another. You could possibly find a neighbor or one of your child's classmates that you are willing to safely get together with to provide your child with playdates and study support. Family cohorts can help one another with childcare and study help too. If you are uncomfortable with in-person family cohorts, you could set up one or a few online family cohorts--perhaps you find two friends for your child to regularly meet up with online to complete homework, read together, or simply hang out.

A positive schedule
Consider your children's at-home schedule and then create a good family remote learning schedule. I believe that schools should offer families a somewhat steady week of learning opportunities that stay mostly consistent. Families can match their schedules with the school schedules. A typical family schedule might include the following:
  • Breakfast at 7
  • Online learning/practice 8-12
  • lunch 12-1
  • After lunch reading 1-2
  • More classes 2-3
  • Playtime 3-5
  • Dinner 
  • After dinner family time
  • Before bed reading 
Ideally schools will create your child's schedule with at-home schedules in mind. Also, I do think that children should not be expected to complete school work with the exception of reading after 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. creating more time for play and family time. 

Study spaces
Rethinking the layout of your home to provide spaces for each child to store their study supplies, log on to the computer, and listen and interact with lessons is important. Setting up those spaces during the summer is a good idea.

Reasonable, engaging study efforts
It is important for family members to review a child's weekly learning menu. If there are assignments or learning sessions that seem unreasonable, it is important for families to contact teachers to see if those learning events can be enriched or modified. Parents also may want to suggest replacement learning ideas. For example, if you have a very active child, you may want to exchange a math fact sheet for sidewalk chalk facts. You can simply take a picture of your child's efforts and send them in rather than the paper/pencil worksheet. Keep the focus of the assignment in mind, and if you can make that focus more interesting and meet the same goal, why not suggest or try that.

Goals and goal talks
Make time to sit down with your child to discuss their learning goals. Educators should share clear goals with families. Talk about how your child can work towards that goal on their own and where you might be able to help. For example, for almost every student, daily reading is integral to learning success. You and your child can discuss their learning and what they need. It may be that your child listens to a book on tape each day for 30 minutes, reads with a parent for 30 minutes, and reads short passages or books on their own for 30 minutes. You can't read too much--lots of great reading is an essential skill and wonderful goal for remote learning. 

Speak up; ask questions
Typically ,in school, educators are always changing the learning experiences to make those experiences well matched to students' needs and interests. If you're confused about learning goals, reach out to the teacher to ask questions. 

Parents who are working may need to hire some extra at-home support. Ask a family member to help out, coordinate care with other adults in the home, or seek local emergency childcare help. I do believe that families should receive a stipend during the pandemic to help out with this. In Massachusetts, emergency child care was available during the spring. Many of those slots stayed empty. I'm not sure why this happened, but I hope that kind of childcare will be available again in the fall should we move to remote learning.

Maximize the benefits of learning at home with the following actions:
  • Look for ways to strengthen your family life with a positive weekly routine including chores, healthy foods, good bedtime routines, limited tech time, lots of reading or listening to books, playing math games together, watching terrific videos and films that connect to social studies' themes, and exploring the natural spaces around you.
  • Read, read, and read some more--children rarely read enough, and the ability to elevate the time spent reading and the quality of the books your child reads is awesome. School librarians are invaluable resources for this initiative.
  • Boost social skills by finding safe ways to get together with family members and neighbors for positive social events.
  • Learn about your local community via reading and exploring places. Many local museums are now open, but you have to make an appointment. Since the learning is virtual, it's likely that you may be able to make appointments to visit these museums at various times throughout the week.
Become tech savvy
This is a good time for every member of the family to develop their tech skills and abilities in safe, productive, and engaging ways. Advocate for your local school system to offer tech classes for whole families so that everyone is able to learn how to use the expected tech devices and tools together. To become tech savvy will serve you well throughout your life.

Learn with your children
Join online classes with your child to learn as they are learning. That will help you help your child.

Remote learning doesn't have to be onerous. Instead, it can be an opportune time to elevate essential skills, family life, and child-centered learning success. Educators are there to guide this journey in ways that best support you and your children. While we would all like to get back to school as we know it, in-school teaching with pandemic limitations will be difficult, uncomfortable, and ineffective for students and teachers alike--the pandemic limitations do not match who children are, how they act, and the ways they learn. Since remote teaching is the best solution, it's time to think about how to make that successful for you and your children. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

It's not all about you; do what you can

There's a will to make sure that you are safe these days. Many reach for the safety nets available to them for solace and safety. Yet, we have to remember this is not just about any one of us, but this pandemic is affecting people throughout society. We have to be mindful of their needs and health too. How can we take care of ourselves and others too?

Follow safety measures
For me, the best incentive for following safety measures besides my own health is the health of our healthcare workers. They have been heroes during this pandemic and why would we want to cause them greater strife or virus threat. When the hospital visits increase so does the risk to their lives.

Advocate for safe remote school openings
After considerable research, I favor a remote teaching return to school. I don't want to put any student or school staff member at risk. I also don't want to waste dollars to support an unfriendly, artificial, and highly restricted school environment. I would rather invest in high quality remote teaching until December, then reconsider the decision with a hopeful return in late February to schools. With the long view in mind, this would mean just a few months more, and if that saves lives that's a good choice for the long run.

Advocate and support good leadership
Poor, self-serving, misdirected leadership like the Trump team has created havoc in American society. Good leaders pay attention to the facts, act with the best interests of all Americans, the environment, and our values as a nation. Good leaders elevate lives rather than diminish lives. We need good, honest, and hard working leaders everywhere in the United States, and it is our job to read, research, and find those leaders, then support them.

Give what you can when you can
None of us can be all or do all, but we all have something to give, and we have to look for opportunities to be generous.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Emotions in check

I became emotional about a story I heard.

My husband responded, "No need to be emotional. You have good reason to disagree, simply disagree."

The role of emotions is often discussed with respect to leadership, problem solving, teaching, and learning.

Thus the big push for emotional intelligence throughout the culture.

As I face a number of important challenges in the months ahead, I want to think about the role of emotions because I know this is an important consideration.

Solving the pandemic child care and education crisis

I believe we can solve the nation's pandemic child care and education crisis with a win-win solution that includes the following actions.

Family Bail-Out
Families are facing child care challenges. I believe we can support families with a childcare stipend that can be used in any of the following ways:
  • one parent could use the stipend to stay home and care for their children
  • parents and/or family members could share the stipend and share childcare responsibilities
  • the stipend could be used to hire outside help (stipends would have to be prorated depending on childcare costs in varying geographic locations or even better, just give everyone top dollar--the money will be a good investment in our countries future)
  • use the money for emergency childcare centers. Some centers will need to be open for special types of cases
National Remote Learning and Teaching
Shift all schools in the country to remote teaching and learning with similar broad protocols and expectations based on existing national standards and protocols. This national shift will help to curb the spread of the pandemic virus and continue to well-educate America's children while making the entire population more tech-savvy which will be positive for the long run.

Since corporate America is the most worried about child care and workers, let them pay a new tax to support this. Also tax the ultra-rich more since they've actually made money during the pandemic. If we could bail-out wealthy banks, we can bail out America's families. 

Why this is a good plan?
  • A country's success depends on strong, loving families and a well educated population
  • A well educated populace spells greater peace and prosperity
  • Quality, equitable education and well supported families can help us to deconstruct oppressive systems of racism
  • Creating a tech-savvy population will help us to prepare for a stronger future
  • More families at home will give people the time to alter habits and lifestyles in ways that are more Earth-friendly which will help us all to work towards greater sustainability. For example, there will be more time to grow your own food, get your finances in order, cook in healthy ways, and care for family members in loving, patient, and kind ways
  • We will curb the spread of this virus, mitigate illness and death, and provide a needed pathway to a vaccine and return to a new normalcy--one that does not replicate the inhuman rat race we left.
  • We won't waste a lot of money on measures that take us nowhere. For example we won't have to rent desks, buy lots of PPE, and spend undue time on poor plans and education that lacks quality. Instead we can focus on long lasting goals of boosting the American family and giving all students across the nation the chance to learn how to be lifelong learners using the great technological tools that exist. We can also boost communities since we can task communities with seeking ways to promote safe social opportunities via healthy recreation, small safe family cohorts, and other creative ways to bring people together. 
The pandemic doesn't mean we can't move forward or find win-win solutions. This is a positive solution to the problems we face during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Remote Teaching and Learning: What worked?

Since I've had time to relax and come down from a very busy three months of remote teaching and learning, I am now wondering what worked and how we know that it worked?

From the vantage point of my grade-level teamwork, I would say the following efforts worked well:

Fifth grade play
Unlike the grade-level live performance that is a tradition at our school, students essentially made a film with the leadership, guidance, and teaching by the music teacher and some other teacher helpers. Everyone of the 69 5th graders performed in some way in the video story, "The Show Must Go Online." Children learned how to produce a good video of their performance which required significant practice with singing, dance, acting, and speaking. This matched the teaching/learning standards for our grade level and provided each child with lifelong learning and presentation skills. This was a success.

Global Changemakers Project
Lead teachers including the librarian and educators who lead ELA and social studies efforts transferred our in-school project to a virtual research project that included accessing online resources, reading, watching, listening, taking notes, writing a report, producing a video, creating a digital poster, and presenting their work. Students chose global changemakers that connected to their own interests, talents, and dreams to research and report on. Similar to the in-school project, there was a range of completion options, and we coached every child to the completion of a stellar report. The final project which combines all the students' work demonstrates that this project was a success since it illustrates the fact that children read, took notes, wrote, and presented their knowledge in ways similar to years past and ways that provided them with positive lifelong learning tools and knowledge.

Math Standards
We covered all of the math standards for the year, and in fact, did more math teaching than in years past since if we were in school, there would have been several days devoted to field trips, Field Day, special events, MCAS tests, other end-of-year assessments, and play practice. Since we didn't have days away from school, math study everyday was expected and most students met that expectation. Students did take several assessments at home which demonstrated that most students made significant progress and scored in grade-level or advanced levels with regard to grade-level standards. Children who struggled more than others with math learning made significant progress if they came to virtual math classes regularly and regularly completed their daily math practice. Overall there was good progress and steady growth.

Reading and Writing
Hosts of online resources and good books were offered to students. A wonderful grade-level read aloud was presented. Daily reading and writing assignments were included too.

Field Studies
Students were able to virtually participate in traditional field studies, while this does not replace the in-person experience, we were able to replicate those events.

Greater focus on individual learning
We were able to maximize our personal learning approach by utilizing an all-hands-on-deck approach with all the teachers and teaching assistants available to support our team. Also, without the opportunity to socialize or fool around, we often had greater attention by many learners.

All in all, I was very proud of the learning and teaching our team fostered and students and families responded to during the three-months of virtual learning. There were definitely some areas that could have been better, and if we do this again, I will advocate and work for betterment in these areas:

Children who regularly attended virtual classes did better overall. I would definitely keep attendance if we switch to remote teaching and learning again.

Targeted scaffolding and grouping
When we targeted student learning by carefully scaffolding projects, assigning teacher-coaches, and making sure that the group size was just right, the learning was more successful. We need to be very careful about this.

Just like careful targeting and scaffolding, we have to be conscious of frequency of classes. Every child was expected to attend the following classes each week:
  • one homeroom meeting - 45-60 minutes
  • approximately three all grade-level meeting - 45-60 minutes
  • two math meetings - 45-60 minutes
  • One-two biography research meetings: 45-60 minutes
  • specialized meetings for students with specific goals - multiple meetings per week led by various teacher leaders
If we do this again, I will look carefully at reasonable and beneficial frequency of classes for each child. 

Most meetings were open to all students. For example, if you wanted to attend five math meetings a week, you could. You could also attend regular library research help sessions as well as open-office hour meetings for extra help. If you had an IEP plan, you were able to have small group or individual meetings with special educators. There were some opportunities for individual and small group coaching with classroom teachers too as needs were demonstrated and time permitted.

Student-to-student collaboration
Students were encouraged to collaborate with one another. The Google classroom and Google suite tools made that possible.

Expected study and practice
Students were expected to spend one hour a day on math, one and one half hours a day on ELA, and approximately another hour on specialist subjects, science, and social studies. We carefully tracked ELA, social studies, science and math study via a number of online assignments that students completed. We taught all science, ELA, and math standards during the year. We did not cover all social studies standards and would not have covered all those standards if we were in school either since the standards are new and work has not been done yet as to how to fit those into the in-school schedule. 

Personal and group coaching
We coached student efforts and performance in a number of ways. First we wrote a weekly newsletter to families, colleagues, and students that outlined expectations. Next we reviewed expectations on the weekly learning menu and via our homeroom and other meetings. And, when children were not completing work, we contacted families and the students to find ways to encourage the child to complete their learning. When modification or other special requests were needed, we put those in place, and in a few instances, we had to consult system leadership on next steps.

Good communication and expectations
Since we were doing this for the first time, our communication and expectations changed somewhat over the course of time. This was confusing at times for colleagues, families, and students. Should we do this again, it is important to determine expectations, communication patterns, tracking, and assessment venues/protocols up front. That will help everyone to know what to do and how to seek help if they need it. 

Most challenged remote learners
Out of 69 students, we had about five students who I considered challenged remote learners. These learners did not make the same progress that other learners made. I think it's important for schools to understand how to identify these students early on, and then provide these learners and families with extra support. Extra supports may include some or all of the following:
  • translation supports for families where another language is prominent
  • emergency day care for children who have no parenting adult in the home on a regular basis during the school day
  • counseling services for children and families facing emotional/psychological challenges
  • parent coaching for parents who are facing extreme hardships during this time
  • tutors for children who cannot complete individual tasks on their own after there's been considerable efforts on behalf of grade level teachers and specialists
Just like in school, scheduling of remote learning classes is essential too since often teachers are shared amongst grade levels and amongst subject areas. We put into place a generally good and predictable schedule from the start which helped, but once we started layering on more small group attention and specialized supports, we ran into some problems. So it's good to have a general schedule for all teaching times, meetings, and prep up front before the remote teaching and learning year begins.

Teacher Meetings, Lesson Planning, and Student Learning Review 
We had three standard teacher meetings a week including our staff meeting, PLC, and grade-level teacher meeting. Each teacher spent about 1-5 hours a day planning lessons and reviewing student learning efforts.

Coaching Trumps Commentary on Papers/Projects
I found that spending the time coaching trumped lots of time writing comments or grading papers. For the most part, math assignments were graded by the tech programs I used--that was very helpful. Rubrics helped to keep students aware of the expectations, and using those rubrics during coaching sessions helped to target the coaching efforts in positive ways. Accountability is essential, but the best time, in my opinion, was coaching sessions followed up by individual or collaborative application or practice.

Two teachers at every meeting
We had a practice of having two or more teachers at each meeting. Sometimes this meant it was a teacher and teaching assistant. Working together to teach was very helpful in the virtual sphere because it helped us to hear what students were saying, notice what non-verbal cues students were sending, call on children fairly, troubleshoot tech difficulties, and manage both the chat and live learning experience.

A myriad of formative assessments are important elements of remote teaching and learning to gauge the success of individual students and the whole group as well as the teaching/learning pedagogy and curriculum used.

Track your efforts
It is also important to figure out how you will track your remote teaching and learning efforts so that you can report accurately on what you did, how you did it, and what the success rates were. This is the only way that we can reflect on, share, assess, and better our efforts. I would suggest tracking the following efforts:

  • daily schedule including numbers of meeting, time for prep/review, teaching focus
  • numbers of meetings and numbers of students in each meeting
  • attendance
  • learning experiences: content, lessons
  • assessments: numbers, content, and results
  • educators present - how many teachers were at each meeting and who they were

That is a summary of the efforts and learning that occurred at our grade level during the remote spring semester of learning and teaching. I would be very interested to hear a general summary of what occurred across the schools, grade levels, and disciplines including the successes and where we could have done it better. An accurate synopsis of that information will help us to move forward in ways that are meaningful and beneficial to all stakeholders with regard to remote teaching and learning.