Google+ Badge

Sunday, December 10, 2017


As I stare out the picture window at the windswept snowflakes crisscrossing in front of a myriad of trees laden with a fresh coat of beautiful snow, I'm thinking about betterment--what can I do to better my work, my home, my school/system, and community? After watching the violent film, Silent, last night, I am struck by the fact that the way we spend our time matters--what we do each day in the aim of betterment makes a difference. In Silence, I couldn't get past the heartless cruelty and violent treatment used in the name of religion--how horrible. Yet today, this still exists--those thinking they have the monopoly on truth impose violence, hate, disrespect, and cruelty on others in the name of religion. No religion at its heart is about hatred, violence, hurt, and despair, and all religions as I see it at their core reach for truth, justice, peace. Though I've heard that thought debated, and will pay attention to those debates. In the meantime, I'll hold onto the truth that religion is human-made which means, like humans, no religion is perfect and all have flaws of one kind or another, and no one anywhere should use religion as an excuse to overpower, hate, kill, demean, and hurt others. If one can use religion to further his/her journey towards truth, justice, peace, and love, then by all means, follow that path.

How can we use religion, our time, others, and experiences for betterment--to improve, and to go to our graves with the sense that we made things better, we mattered, we made a difference small or great? Why does that matter?

What is life like without a will towards betterment for ourselves and others? How can we work together to further rid our world of selfish pursuits and greed, the kind that snuffs out the lives, livelihood, and good living of others? How can we further our efforts towards betterment?

When you ask this question and truly look around, it's limitless what each one of us can do? We won't always know exactly how to act, but with good intent and collaboration, it's beyond imagination what we can do.

Each word, each act, each effort matters--and the more we are cognizant of that, the better we will be. Onward.

Focus: Empower Students

To give our students power over their world is the best we can do for our students. To give them power or to empower them, in my opinion, is to give them the capacity to make decisions, create success paths, find their passions, build good relationships, contribute, develop confidence, and live a good life.

To give them this power is not only to make them feel good, but to help them develop the skills, perspectives, knowledge, ideas, and overall capacity that will fuel their ability to live good lives. How can we do this?

First, we can give them a really strong and facile foundation of knowledge, concept, and skill. This strong foundation gives students strength for all areas of future pursuit. When students have strong, flexible, and fluid abilities with numeracy, literacy, and a broad knowledge foundation, they are ready to pursue passions, interests, and needs.

Next, we can teach students how to learn with confidence, strength, and ability. If students understand how their brains work, what resources they're able to access, and the attitudes and behaviors that power them up for successful learning, they will be better learners. Just Friday a young man sat next to me continuously sighing as he tried to learn a new concept. He often got the wrong answer and had to ask me many, many questions. I said, don't worry too much as you're forging a new brain path and that's like making a new path in the woods. I asked him if he had ever made a new path in the woods, and how when you do that you get scratched by branches, step into muddy wet holes, rip your pants, and struggle. I noted that it's the same way when you're forging new brain paths--it takes time and struggle to learn that new material. I think he understood the metaphor and continued to persevere--I was so proud of him. The more we let students know that we're all capable of great learning, and learning-to-learn is our path in that direction, the better students do.

After that we can help students know themselves and their world. They need to understand where they are strong, and where they face challenges. They also need to understand where the world supports them, and where their world may set up walls to their success. Understanding the supports and hindrances empowers students. We have to be honest about our world. For example students were asking me about my religion the other day, and I responded that I typically don't say much about my own religion as it's a public school and I want to honor all the religions students celebrate. In public school we don't promote one religion over another, but instead respect all religions. The children who listened to me, children of multiple religions, were comforted by response.

I want to think more about this topic in the days ahead since as I think of my teaching focus at present it is to empower students in my charge--that's my main focus. What would you add to this discussion? How can I develop this intent?

Promoting Educator Voice, Choice, and Leadership

For years I've been advocating for greater teacher and student voice, choice, and leadership in education. I've felt that the predominance of top-down hierarchy and leadership models have stood in the way of better schools and greater capacity. I have urged systems to promote educator voice, choice, and leadership with greater distributive models of leadership, models where educators and students do lead education in ways that matter.

Lately I've noticed much greater teacher voice, choice, and leadership in the system where I work and in the greater education community too. I've noticed this in multiple ways including the following:
  • The new superintendent in our system has invited educators to share their impressions and thoughts about the school system and to serve on a focus group related to their ideas and perspectives. This is positive.
  • Our new local union president is reaching out to enlist the ideas, perspectives, and efforts of the membership with regard to important issues and ideas that affect the work we're able to do. This too is very positive.
  • Curriculum directors are reaching out to educators for their ideas about scheduling.
  • The local foundation continues to reach out to educators to write grants for innovative ideas. 
  • Decisions have been made to enlist greater educator voice with regard to their evaluations too.
  • Faculty meetings have included greater teacher presentations and ideas.
This is all very positive, and has given me greater time, energy, and ideas to move my practice forward. I hope that this positive emphasis continues, and I hope that educators will become more and more comfortable and active with regard to speaking up, sharing ideas, and leading our profession close to home, at the state level, nationally, and globally too. This will result in better schools and better service to every student and family. Onward. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

When Wrong, Willing to Take Another Path

When I listened to Trump's biography on FrontLine, they focused on the fact that Trump mentor led Trump to never admit to failure. That's not the kind of leadership I am inspired by. Instead I am inspired by leaders who are willing to acknowledge bad decisions, missteps, or incomplete work, and then change directions--those are the kinds of leaders I admire. Those leaders who embrace failure or situations that could be better are the kinds of leaders who lead in realistic and positive ways, ways that others can learn from and be inspired by. Do you agree?

Be the Colleague You Desire

Who is the colleague that you desire?

Fortunately I'm surrounded by wonderful colleagues who demonstrate the attributes I desire:
  • Listener
  • Proactive
  • Willing to try new ideas
  • Supportive
  • Let's you be you
  • Complimentary
  • Honest
  • Kind
  • Mission/vision driven
  • Betterment oriented
  • Realistic
  • There when you need them
  • Reasonable 

Trump: Example of What Not to Be

As Trump continually name calls and promotes what seems like bullying and prejudicial behaviors, the best I can do is try to combat this approach with elevating what I can do to treat colleagues, students, community members, family and others with respect, care, and kindness. Positive challenge.

Final Days of Teaching for 2017

Yesterday we ended the day with the film, Jump In. It's a great movie for fifth grade as it deals with lots of social issues that fifth graders deal with including prejudice against students' interests and choices, family struggles, conflicts amongst students, collaboration, and competition. Watching good movies together provides students with a rich point of reference to refer to and gain strength from as the year progresses. I have a list of films I show throughout the fifth grade year including the following:

A Little Princess
Positive images and references to India, provides a social context to classism/racism, deals with bullying, strong female characters, gratitude and service.

The Queen of Katwe
Global perspective, strong female lead, overcoming adversity, privilege and power, power of academic/interest investment

Akeelah and the Bee
Power and struggle of giftedness, perseverance, service to one another, bullying, collaboration, strong female lead.

Miracle at Moreaux
I don't show this every year because it is a sensitive, but powerful film that demonstrates Christians and Jews working together to save children during the Holocaust. It's a powerful film of human strength and dignity.

Race to Freedom
I also don't show this film every year, however it is a powerful portrayal of the reality, humanity, and courage of the underground railroad journey and the anguish, violence, and indignity of racism and slavery.

Good movies have the potential of raising students' humanity and broadening their outlook and perspective of the world around them. If you have movies you show each year, please share those with me as I'm interested in ever growing my list. I typically show these films a little at a time when we have extra minutes or a need for a more restful and thoughtful school experience. For example, I showed Jump In yesterday after our successful, but upsetting ALICE safety drill. We needed a bit of meaningful entertainment at that point.

We'll work at multiple ways to practice, interpret, and model multiplication as we prepare for the unit three assessment and we'll continue our character poster effort. Finally we'll enjoy a field trip, an in-house, enjoyable science learning experience, and a pajama day of story share and celebration. I want to really be there for my wonderful fifth graders and colleagues in the next two weeks as while it's a joyful time for many, the holidays can also be a sad time for those who have had significant losses or experience cultural differences that make the holidays hard.


Friday, December 08, 2017

Creating the Science Lab

The addition of a new science curriculum has been weighing on me because there simply has not been enough time to review and prep the curriculum and materials. So during the holiday break I'll put aside some time to read, organize, and create the learning outline, environment, and lessons related to this unit. In hindsight, it's too bad that this wasn't introduced at the end of last year so we would have summer time to do all this work--it's a lot of work to do it well.

So I'll make time to read, research, organize, and set up. Then we'll have lots of fun on Science Wednesdays learning all the standards embedded in the hands-on learning experiences. Onward.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thursday Musings: December 7, 2017

Tomorrow is a day filled with scheduled events, but little direct teaching due to those events including a concert, safety event, and buddy STEAM study. As I think ahead, my teaching schedule next week can be best described as multiplication boot camp including the US traditional algorithm practice with whole numbers and decimals. Students will also take a unit practice test in preparation of the unit final test before the holiday break. The week also includes completing of students' good character posters, and lots of reading and writing. Onward.

Union Efforts and Development

Unfortunately our union president has been denied some meetings that I believe would empower both our union and our school system. As I listened to Revere teachers, administrators, and union personnel speak, I recognized once again the great strength that union (labor)-administration connections bring to a school system. It doesn't mean that both sides will always agree, but it does demonstrate that when both groups work well together there is tremendous potential. To deny meaningful conversations, meetings, and connections is to put up a wall to the potential that exists. I want to think about how I might broach this issue with our local union board as we meet today. How can we foster deeper and better union-administration collaboration. We're off to a great start, and this is another avenue to propel that positive start even more. We may want to take advantage of the January 6th MTA event to research this move and other positive efforts even more. Onward.

Assessing Efforts: What's Working and What More Can I Do

As I assess the classroom efforts this year to date, the following efforts are working:

  • before school homework help
  • lots of small group and one-to-one time with students who need/desire it with multiple teachers and teaching assistants
  • study packets to support student/family math study/learning
  • online homework that provides quick response
  • logical step-by-step approach to the standards
  • use of Google forms for tests/practice tests since those forms help students to practice for online standardized tests and afford educators a deeper way to assess and look at data to inform instruction
  • use of TenMarks, Symphony Math, That Quiz, and Illuminations to support student learning and teaching
  • regular emails and newsletters to family members related to student performance, needs, and efforts. This supports home-school teamwork in positive ways
  • regular analysis of formal and informal data to inform instruction
  • daily instruction related to learning-to-learn attitudes and efforts to empower learners and put them in the driver's seat of their own education
Where I would like to grow the program more includes the following:
  • use of deeper and more meaningful math project/problem work
  • greater time/ability to support students who regularly stay after school for homework club
How will I grow these efforts?

In the new year, I'll commit as many Thursdays as I can to support students who stay after school. I volunteered to help out on Tuesdays too, but my proposal didn't fit the criteria of the Tuesday extra-help program, so my offer was denied. 

I'll also look for times to make one-to-one time during the school day, before school and after school for students for whom I need to understand more with regard to their math learning. Those one-to-one sessions are powerful when it comes to good teaching. Further, I'll continue to think about the suggestions I received last week for deepening the math program with more meaningful problems and projects. This is going to be difficult since the fifth grade program is such a skill building program with little time for deep projects and problem work. I'm all ears however when it comes to ideas for building this in, and I'll continue to look for ways to do this. 

All in all we're off to a good start, and this post will help to direct future efforts. 

Moving Along: Teaching Algorithms for Multiplication

Students have been learning about many ways to multiply. Long ago, I thought it was ridiculous to learn so many algorithms and models of multiplication, but now I recognize that all of these models and algorithms help students to make meaning of and become more flexible with numbers. If done well, students are capable of holding all these different, but connected ways in their minds and do end up knowing more about what it means to multiply.

In the past week, students rehearsed the area model and partial product method, and today we'll review the "mom and pop" multiplication or traditional multiplication, which is just another way to perform partial product multiplication. We'll slowly step through the process step-by-step, and then children will have time to practice. As I teach, I'll connect this model to the models we learned about previously.

Going forward, students will practice the traditional algorithm, learn a few ways to think about, model, and multiply decimals, and then practice with straight forward multiplication expressions,  word problems, a practice test, and the unit assessment. Onward.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Creating a Culture that Cheats

I was thinking about cheating recently, and the kinds of cultures that encourage and prompt cheating versus cultures that promote honesty, integrity, transparency, and inclusion.

What kinds of cultures encourage and prompt cheating?

In schools when students, family members, and educators are afraid of repercussions if they share error, mistake, or unfortunate truths, you may find cheating. For example if a child felt that he/she was going to be punished in some way for not doing his/her homework, he/she may find a way to cheat to get that done. Or if a teacher could not keep up with a particular teaching requirement, he/she may not be truthful about it if he/she fears the repercussions of telling the truth. Parents who experience hard times, may feel the same. They may be uncomfortable with sharing the truth if they feel it's going to harm their child's opportunities or social relationships with teachers and the greater teaching/learning community.

So as educators, how do we create communities of trust, the kinds of communities that encourage honesty, transparency, inclusion, and collaborative problem solving. I think those communities begin with establishing honest, positive relationships amongst and between all members of the teaching/learning community. Mistruths and negativity can certainly create fertile ground for cheating rather than doing the right thing. I also believe that when we goal set and create vision and mission together in authentic, meaningful ways we lay a good path for positivity and collaboration rather than distance, cheating, and lies. Having a collaborative roadmap to use for our good work together helps.

This is true in the classroom too. We need to make the time as educators to create a positive path for honest, responsible, and positive teaching and learning with students. We need to create mission and vision with students, and meet often to review and revise the path. We have to expect good intentions from every student, and when things go awry, we have to make the time to analyze why that happened and how we can make it better. Too often we expect students to do the impossible--we ask them to complete assignments, show fortitude, and persevere without even understanding the roadblocks that stand in their way. Instead, we should work with students to identify the roadblocks, and then find ways to overcome those roadblocks with innovative programming, new tools, and optimal resources.

As I think more of this, cheating is a byproduct of poor culture, and it's imperative that we establish good culture in our classrooms, schools, systems, families, and communities. More to think about.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Self Regulation: The Dance of Freedom, Readiness, and Responsibility

As children develop, we expect their self regulation to grow. We expect them to be able to make responsible choices and use their time and freedom well. It's always a dance to figure out how much freedom, choice, and responsibility a child is ready for as they grow. Sometimes we give them more than they can handle, and sometimes we don't give them enough. Further in one class there can be some children that can handle more freedom responsibly than others.

As an educator, I've been thinking about this and trying to strike the right balance. There are children who are ready for tremendous decision making and freedom, and there are others that are not there yet--they need greater structure to be able to successfully learn, socialize, and contribute in school.

Today was one of those days when I realized that I have to tighten up the protocols for some who are not ready for some of the decision making I anticipated that they were ready for. It's not that the children are troubled, but instead it's clear they need tighter guidelines to be successful. This is one of the areas of thought and effort teachers deal with regularly--one where we need to recalibrate now and then to run a successful class. Onward.

Sticking to the Routines

We've established a number of positive routines for the classroom, and now it's a matter of making sure that everyone follows those routines. Almost everyone does follow the routines almost every day, but there are still a few outliers who need a little more support in following the routines at one time or another.

It takes quite a while to get to know a class, and to establish positive routines for that group. Every group of students presents somewhat differently, and therefore every group needs a bit different coaching and routines.

In general, we've established the following routines:

Business Time
Students read the schedule, hang up their bags, sign in, pass in notes, ask questions, and silent read during business time. I take attendance, complete lunch count, and check in with children about any number of issues or needs.

Learning Times
Generally students get ready, and I introduce the activity. Then we get started, and end with a closing and clean up. Students learn many subjects in many ways/places with many teachers.

We line up quickly and go to where we need to be.

Silent Reading
We sit in places quietly reading. I catch up with students at this time too as time permits. Fortunately almost all the children enjoy reading.

Lots of inclusive play and some conflict resolution too :)

End of Day
Clean up, pack your bags, sit on desk tops and await dismissal. If we're ready early we might watch a short video or even have a little extra play time.

Open Circle
We meet in the cafe in a big circle to discuss issues of social competency, team, and service learning.

The routines for this big group are established, and there will be few changes now as we've finally got a good set of protocols that work allowing children to get the attention and direction they need. Onward.


Conflict is a steady issue in schools. Daily students experience many conflicts including conflict with learning, conflict with friends, conflict with protocols, and conflict with matters they bring to school. A big part of an educators' job is helping out with that conflict. Sometimes it's as easy as bringing two students together to each tell their side of the story, and other times it's a very complicated conflict change that extends from home into the neighborhood and to school. What makes the complex conflicts most difficult is the lack of hands or time to resolve the issue. For example our school has 400 students and two counselors. On an average day, that works, but when a complex conflict arises, that's often not enough support. Or for another example if you're one teacher in a classroom with many children, it's difficult to put the rest of the children on hold while you deal with a complex conflict with one or two issues, and if the conflict includes home or neighborhood issues, that's even more challenging.

In general, conflicts are easy to resolve, but when those complex conflicts arise, it's not unusual to feel a bit unprepared or ill-equipped, but with thought and collaboration we typically find a way to resolution. Onward.

Where Do You Invest Your Professional Time and Energy?

Last night I attended the local school committee meeting. As usual, I was inspired by the dedication of the committee as well as the many administrators, townspeople, and educators who were at the meeting. I listened carefully to the many initiatives they discussed including school start times, goals setting, goals, athletic fields, and budgets. There's lots to think about when it comes to leading a school system, and still more if you approach that work with a growth mindset.

This morning it will be more of the same deep and thoughtful investment as I listen to colleagues and school leaders discuss ideas to create an environment that's of greater help to our students who face issues of trauma as well an environment that embraces diversity and encourages respect. In addition, we'll look at our school improvement goals and learn about the WPSF grants, a resource that helps us to innovate.

As you can see there are many positive efforts in the works, and this is good. As I reflect on these efforts, I am thinking again about where I will invest my professional time and energy. Much is the same as in the past, but the focus is a bit more defined.

Local Union
As the secretary I'll continue to record information and keep the website up-to-date. I'll forward my own interest in helping educators know about the tremendous professional learning opportunities that exist via our local union professional learning website page. Further, I'll support the efforts of colleagues to speak up, discuss, and forward issues and ideas that matter.

Math Education
I'm spending a good amount of time working with individual students, small groups, and the class in math. I'm looking deeply at how students learn, and the ways that I can develop the program to engage, empower, and deeply educate students in this regard. My goal is to create more meaningful, culturally proficient, and student-centered project work as recommended by the math researcher, educator, and evangelist, Jo Boaler.

Cultural Proficiency and Community Building
With my team, I continue to work at developing our ability to teach in culturally proficient ways. Many other colleagues are contributing to this work too by sharing their research, learning, and ideas from conferences, reading, and teaching. I want to take some time over the holiday break to consider a number of resources and shares to deepen this important work. Colleagues and I are looking at planning spring events to forward this work too. As part of this is our effort to continually develop a strong and vital teaching/learning community and look for ways to broaden and deepen our collaboration to teach each student well.

Environmental Education
Last night at the school committee meeting, there was advocacy for greater environmental education. I believe in this, and I believe there is opportunity to develop our science teaching in more experiential and environmentally friendly ways. My colleagues and I have done work in this area in the past, but there has not been consistent financial or planning time support. I'll think about how we might not lose sight of this as I follow the efforts of the many who spoke at last night's meeting.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Vote/Advocate With Your Presence - Attendance at Important Meetings Matters

Tomorrow night our local school committee will discuss a few important issues including school start times. Many educators have privately and publicly shared viewpoints about this decision. Many administrators, family members, and townspeople have similarly shared their points of view. I believe a decision can be made with regard to this issue that's a win-win, a decision that benefits many without pitting some groups against others.

I plan to attend the school committee meeting tomorrow so that I can listen carefully to the discussion. I know that some of my peers are planning to attend too. I recommend that if this issue means a lot to you, that you make the time to attend the meeting. Attending meetings after the school day is a challenge for most educators and parents since their days are busy, and for many, their personal responsibilities to second jobs and their families are great. Yet, if we look out into the future, this issue can impact the success we have with teaching and learning every day. To choose wisely will benefit all in this regard.

If you care about what happens, I recommend that you attend the meeting. And, if you feel a bit overwhelmed, you can always bring your computers and multi-task a bit during the event.

Students Benefit from Teacher Leadership

My grade-level colleagues and I attended Friday's Teacher Leadership in Action Conference at the Microsoft Center in Burlington, MA. The event was sponsored by Education First and included educators, administrators, consultants, and advocates. I included many of my tweets in a Storify above. You may also look at more of the day's tweets via #TLinAction.

Teacher leaders led the conference, and their talks/videos were informative and inspiring. I recommend that educators and administrators take a look at their videos, and perhaps use those videos during faculty meetings or other gatherings as one way to encourage greater teacher leadership efforts, discussion, and decision making.

The conference which was mainly run by the teacher leaders featured in the videos, gave teaching teams the chance to focus in on their individual and collective leadership. Further, the research shared demonstrated how developing teacher leadership truly does empower schools and students in ways that matter. When students are led by teachers that lead, those students do better and have mentors to inspire and direct their leadership too.

One aspect of the day included the opportunity to focus on a problem of practice with a team of teacher leaders. One colleague and I focused on the problem of how to deepen the math learning/teaching curriculum in ways that meet current research and include greater student-centered, project-based learning. We received tremendous advice from the teachers who used the worthy problem of practice approach to support us. The process used was exceptional. It was a process similar to ECET2's colleague circles, and a process that would be very helpful for school teams to use when working to better what they can do.

We also had the chance to create an action plan related to a specific goal we have for our practice. Together our team looked at the goal of deepening our collaboration with all members of the teaching team in an effort to teach each child with greater skill, focus, and result. In a sense, we're looking at how we can further develop our inclusion efforts for the benefit of students. Again we used a good goal setting process that starts with focus/vision and then moves on to the actual steps needed to meet the goal/vision. Our team had the chance to work with a dynamic team from Revere Public schools that provided us with some invaluable ideas and perspectives. We were also able to share our plan with other participants through a gallery walk, and received more good consult. I'm sure we'll continue to work on this plan and the implementation steps in the days to come.

Heidi Guarino, Emily Weiss, and Chad Rubalcaba did an exceptional job organizing and leading this teacher leadership event. In addition to learning about and interacting with many processes related to teacher leadership, we were also led with modern ways to backchannel, share notes, and utilize other aspects of blended learning/teaching to learn together. This approach coupled with the state-of-the-art Microsoft presentation center gave us a top-notch educational event, one that we can replicate with our students and colleagues. 

There's lots to think about as I continue to reflect on the day's learning, and if you read this and engaged in the event with me, please feel free to add other takeaways in the comments section. If you were not at the event, and have questions, please feel free to ask. In summary, Teacher Leadership in Action was the kind of professional learning event I seek to forward my practice, and I'm so happy that my teammates and I were able to take advantage of this terrific endeavor. 

Friday, December 01, 2017

Friday Musings: The First Day in December, 2017

Yesterday I had the chance to attend the Teacher Collaborative's inaugural event on Newbury Street in Boston. It was a terrific opportunity to connect and share with wonderful educators who represent many aspects of the education field including university personnel, consultants, educators, and advocates. The meeting confirmed for me again that there is much to be proud of as a Massachusetts educator since we have so many dedicated educators and outside agencies ready and willing to work to improve education in the state.

Join the Teacher Collaborative
I recommend that you join the Teacher Collaborative and its virtual network as one way to develop your craft and connect to the many opportunities that exist to develop your education practice and opportunities.

Use Professional Learning Events to Develop Practice and Strengthen Team
Today our fifth grade teaching team will meet with educators across the state at a teacher leadership conference sponsored by Education First. We'll use the day to look for ways to develop our collaborative teaching model in ways that make a difference for students, their families, and colleagues. During the meeting, I'll share a problem of practice with colleagues from my school system and other systems around the state. The problem I'll share is my quest to deepen math teaching/learning in ways that make math more interdisciplinary, culturally proficient, collaborative, relevant, and meaningful. Essentially I want to deepen math learning in ways that the researcher Jo Boaler has noted as more successful ways to teach and learn math. I'll be interested in what colleagues have to say in this regard. I'm looking forward to the ways we'll utilize the resources, information, and share at this conference to impact our current teaching model in positive ways.

Next week students will practice the area model, partial product algorithm, and traditional algorithms to multiply with proficiency and skill. To learn this simply takes lots of practice. As students master this, they'll then have the opportunity to practice many math concepts and skills that are easy to learn and somewhat enjoyable to practice. Essentially it's a back-to-basics, nuts-and-bolts math week.

Good Character Campaign
Last week students spent time talking about the developmental stages of students in K-5. Later they divided up into groups and took perspective of each grade's developmental stage as they created posters to inspire good character for that grade level. The project was led by a talented intern, and as students created they continually conversed about good character. Next week we'll discuss the teamwork needed to make these posters, complete the posters, and figure out how we'll advertise and forward the Good Character campaign we've started.

Book Group
Our book group completed their first book, Swindle, which was an action packed story. At our last meeting we watched a small part of the film that was created based on the book. it was enjoyable to discuss how the movie clip was both similar and different than the book, and how the movie's depictions of the characters were similar and different than we imagined as we read. We'll begin a new book next week, and as we begin reading the new book, we'll discuss how we can use a story elements framework, our imaginations, and attention to fully understand and enjoy a story.

School Concerts
There are many evening and a daytime concert planned for next week so that will bring a lot of excitement and some tired students the days following the concerts.

Faculty Meeting
We have an ambitious hour-long faculty meeting next week which will focus on how to best teach students who face trauma issues, the creation of a book stop that focuses on books celebrating diversity, grant opportunities, and details related to a peaceful, healthy, and happy school.

Extra Help Homework Club
Students are invited to come for extra help on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings at 8am. These extra help sessions have allowed students to complete their homework at their best learning time in the morning. Plus there's help available. I believe these sessions have been a help to students, families, and teachers since, for some, there's less frustration, more practice, and more help. This has been a win-win endeavor.

Math RTI
Students will practice computation, study divisibility rules, and play games in the two weeks of math RTI to come. I'll use that time to catch up with a number of students with one-to-one math meetings as a way to learn about the way they are learning in math with greater detail and potential.

To think ahead about the week to come, is to be prepared for the week ahead and to make space for the weekend fun ahead. Onward.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

An Early Start: November 30, 2017

I couldn't keep my eyes open after 8pm last night as it had been a busy and positive day. Now I'm up in the wee hours of the morning because the day ahead is very, very busy and there's lots to do to get ready and prepare.

What's on the schedule?

Room Clean-Up
We cleaned and organized desks yesterday, and today I'll spend some time organizing other aspects of the classroom. With 26+ people in a smallish room for about five hours a day, there's need for regular clean up and organization.

Substitute Plans
My colleagues and I are attending a conference tomorrow, and I'm running out the door at the end of the school day to attend the Teacher's Collaborative's first big event in Boston this afternoon. So I have to make up those sub plans for tomorrow this morning.

Reading Group
I've got to finish reading our RTI reading book, Swindle, as I prepare for our final group talk about the story, a story the children enjoyed. I also have to prep our next book study. I'll choose a shorter book, one we can complete before the holiday break.

Yesterday there was a quandary about a particular learning strategy used so I want to find out more about that including what happened, why, and how might we make it better the next time. We actually already put one change in place to mitigate the issue that occurred. I find that if we approach problems and room for betterment right away, we find the "promise in the problem" and move on with better process and result.

Since we'll be out tomorrow, we need to complete and send out the newsletter today.

Prep the Week Ahead
The focus for the week ahead will be the Character Campaign, Reading, and Math Unit 3 plus enrichment.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Positive Changes in the School House

As I walked down the school house hallway today, I noticed how clean and bright most of our school is. There's been considerable effort in the past year to clean up our school and that has resulted in brighter hallways as well as an updated faculty room and new restroom--may sound crazy, but improvements like that improve morale. Last year our staff room was halved and at every lunch time, people were squished and therefore disgruntled. This year there's ample space, new furniture, and a sink--a place to relax, eat your lunch, and talk with colleagues. Much better!

We have a new restroom too. It's bright and clean. This too is a good change since we don't have to wait in line to use the restroom as much during our really busy days with short breaks. The hallways for the most part are clearer which makes moving from one room to the next easier too.

There's still room for more changes and updates to this old building, and I'm wondering if it's best to make those updates or plan for a new building or elementary campus for the town. To make that decision, there's a lot to consider such as the following:

  • Additional building in town. It seems like our area is becoming more like metro-DC with more apartments and condos rising up. Does this mean more students? And if it does, how will that impact the need for learning space.
  • Traffic is another concern. As our area becomes more populated and busy, traffic increases. How will this affect busses, other transportation, costs, routes, and building needs?
  • There's a push for more modern learning spaces--spaces that look a lot like Boston's Museum of Science--does that push us in the direction of rethinking how an elementary school or campus will look and work. I was on our high school building initial idea team--the process was dynamic and helped the community to reach an awesome result which is a terrific high school learning environment.
  • There's the research of neighborhood schools versus community schools. There was a lot of work done in that regard a few years ago, and before decisions are made, I believe that team needs to meet again to review that research for today's time and a growing community to see if renovation or a new school campus makes sense. 
  • Future-think and long range plans. The community needs to think about space as land is at a premium in this town, and they have to think about the kinds of learning experiences they want for their children. For example, if an elementary school campus were built where I work, we'd have walking access to the high school fields and community pool which could mean some additional positive programming. 
What positive changes are you and your colleagues thinking about with regard to your teaching/learning environment? What good process are you using to make those decisions in inclusive, transparent ways? There's lots to think about as we continue to forward a positive education for every child and community, and that think menu will look somewhat different in every community. 

Helping Every Learner

The little boy looked at me with his big eyes and asked, "Are you going to be here this afternoon?" Unfortunately I was not able to stay after school that day, but I realized that our time together a week or so ago after school was meaningful to him since he was asking if I was going to be there again. This showed me that he was eager to learn, and that he trusted me. A few others have asked me similar questions in the past week demonstrating a desire for that small group or one-to-one help with the math--it's clear they want to learn, but need the extra support I am able to offer before or after school.

Then I read this article about in-school tutoring on Politico, an article that affirmed the value of small group or one-to-one intense support with tutors that care, tutors students may build a great relationship with. Now I'm wondering if we can look a bit more deeply at our teaching/learning practices to empower our learners more by providing more deep and targeted learning experiences both in school and after school. I'm wondering if it is more impactful to lessen group size and work with greater depth for periods of time to truly grow students' knowledge, ability, and interest in any learning topic?

This strikes at a conversation I had related to this topic yesterday. During the conversation I wondered aloud about the strength of scheduling interventions and services in ways that matter. Further, I discussed the idea of placing greater attention on service delivery maps that are carefully crafted so students' needs and services are prioritized in ways that they are not missing essential learning and teaching to receive services or in ways that extra services are well coordinated with content/concept goals. To do this would require substantial time up front before the year begins to make sure that every child's schedule targets their main learning goals and needs including the need to feel like a vital and valued member of the learning team, and in ways that allows students to develop their rich interests and talents. For example I believe all children deserve to learn in the arts, and that arts should not be traded for basic skill instruction.

As I think of this more, I recognize that I am often thinking about the learning quotient. For example, I'll often accept a fair level of noise, movement, and what may look like confusion in the classroom, if I know that there's a lot of learning going on--I can tell that the learning is going on by the conversation I hear, the student-to-student helping, data streaming in from tech sites, and the questions asked. I'm more concerned with learning than management although I recognize that there needs to be some order and routine to foster good learning.

So as I think more about the learning quotient, the amount of learning or growth children achieve, I am prompted to invest my energy in the following efforts:
  • Before and after school help/tutoring available to all
  • Opportunities for one-to-one and small group deep learning when possible
  • Lots of active learning
  • Number play, exploration, and problem solving
How does this focus translate into action?

Collegial Share and Planning
Currently I share a weekly schedule with colleagues who teach math with me. That schedule includes a loose-tight focus (loose to respond to where learners are at, and tight to make sure we cover all standards), targeted learning events/support, study guides (packets), tech menus, online homework, and lots of learning-to-learn and mindset coaching with regard to how to ask questions, use positive self talk, and apply strategies for optimal learning. To develop this more, I want to be able to assess our efforts in more pointed and ongoing ways to determine the learning quotient we are achieving, and to refine and revise our efforts as needed. I re-looked at state scores last night with regard to math growth scores. Although it is only one measure, I noticed again that attributes that led to positive growth included greater use of visual models, good use of tech integration, attention to language/reading, deep one-to-one support (tutoring), regular assessment, and family-school communication/teaming. In a couple of situations where the growth was less, I don't think we took the progress monitoring seriously enough since those students displayed little growth throughout the year, and I wonder if they would have increased their success if we had stopped and looked deeply at what we could do to truly help those children succeed and then revising our supports to make that happen. In two cases, students learning took a turn midyear, a turn that signaled exhaustion and struggle. Fortunately we've changed our curriculum a bit to respond to that midyear downturn so that might help this year. We're also offering more supports with regard to language development which might help too. I want to continue thinking about this with colleagues so we can do better.

At-School Tutoring and Extra Help
Better than sitting on the couch at home correcting papers is the effort to offer extra study support during the week. Fortunately I can do that this year due to the fact that my own children are older and need less after school support, and I don't have an extra job to pay the bills which many younger teachers do have. I want to continue to build this in-school tutoring/extra support effort in ways that matter and translate into good academic growth and success with students. I will think about how I can make this happen in the weeks ahead.

Study Packets
Utilizing an idea that arose from our Middle School efforts and a conversation with a highly qualified mathematician in our midst, I've started using the unit packet study guide to guide our teaching/learning efforts. This guide includes all major visual models and learning efforts and allows educators, assistants, and students a guide to the most important skills, concepts, and knowledge for each unit. The use of the study guide enables us to work with more time focused in on the most essential content.

Tech Integration
The use of Symphony Math, That Quiz, Google apps, TenMarks, and a few other games gives us a good tech infrastructure to work with to help students succeed in math. These platforms offer educators the opportunity to personalize the exercises for each child if needed. These platforms also work like the study guide as one way to organize and lead the learning--a method that students can use with each other, on their own, and with educators for practice and self-learning. I wish we could use Khan Academy, but at this time, our system won't allow it. I continue my advocacy with little success so far since I believe that Khan Academy is a super tech platform for math learning and support.

Projects, Problems, and Exploration
I want to add more of these to our math program, and that's an area that I am exploring at this time. 

Interdisciplinary Math Education
I also want to integrate our math teaching/learning with other topics regularly, and that's another area I'm working to improve on. 

Students Helping Students
We use this strategy often in class and it is a very successful research-based strategy, one I want to use more. 

Educators everywhere are always thinking about how they can help every learner. That's a challenge when we're working with lots of children--a challenge I'm committed to meeting with greater success in the days ahead. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Honor the Gifts of Others

Schools are like "small cities," noted a interviewee on an NPR piece a year or so ago. I agree--there's a complexity with regard to numbers, interactions, focus, goals, and scheduling much like a busy city. And in that city, no teacher is all things--no one brings all the gifts to the table, but it is rare to impossible to find that there's an individual in this educational "city" that does not bring any gifts to the table, and far more likely that every citizen of this school city, brings extraordinary gifts.

As we work with one another, we need to honor the gifts that each other brings to school life. We cannot expect anyone to be all things or bring all gifts. Instead, we have to work with one another to maximize our collective potential--to honor and utilize the gifts of each other to serve students, families, educators, and the community well. In that end, we will, together, implement a strong program of worth, one that enriches, empowers, and transforms lives in ways that matter.

The Teacher Collaborative: Take a Look

This morning I lamented as I told my husband a story of discouragement, one where good work was not inspired, but instead a "check the box" mentality existed. I noted that I need encouragement to teach well, and he responded with a vote of affirmation for my professional connections via the Internet and elsewhere, connections that help me to elevate the work I do.

As I thought about his affirmation, I realized that in the last few months as I pushed into the classroom and focused on specific teaching goals, I had lost track with my many sources of Inspiration, sources such as #satchat, #edchat, @thejlv @chrislehmann @pammoran and more. I recognized that while I had attended a few professional events this year, the events weren't targeted well at the need I have to develop my practice with like-minded and strong-minded educators--the kind that make me think deeply about what I do and why I do it.

Then I thought about an event that's coming up this week, The Teacher Collaborative's first Educator Exchange, an opportunity for passionate and dedicated educators to gather and discuss what's really important to them, a chance to encourage each other and urge each other forward in ways that matter. The Exchange will be led by two dynamic, energetic, experienced educators--people who have taken the time to listen to educators and find out what they need so that they can teach better and serve children, families, and colleagues well.

I share this thinking as you may want to get involved with the Educator Exchange, and you may also need to revisit your professional connections and the time you spend nurturing your craft and feeding the knowledge, energy, spirit, drive, and passion you need to teach well. To teach well is a multidimensional endeavor, and taking the time to consider all of those dimensions is essential to developing your craft in ways that matter.

Trump Continues to Disgrace Us

Yesterday Trump had the opportunity to rightly honor brave and courageous men who used their intellect, talent, and tradition to help the United States during a terrible time in our country's history. Instead, and as usual, he turned the spotlight on himself as he demeaned Native American culture in general, and specifically Pocahontas and Senator Warren.

He could have used the opportunity to tell the story of those brave men, and to honor their heritage. He could have helped to educate all Americans about the first Americans, our Native Americans, and given the men a chance to speak about their contribution. He could have used the opportunity to elevate and educate, but instead he turned the spotlight on himself and his ability to demean others. In this case he chose to demean Pocahontas, Senator Warren, and the brave men who stood next to him.

No matter how you feel about Senator Warren's past claims about having Native American heritage, there is no doubt that she has devoted her time and energy towards deep issues of importance to all people. She is not sitting by the sidelines watching Trump and his cronies strip the American people of their rights, freedom, and opportunity, but instead she is speaking up day after day for what is right and good for the American people. She is dealing with very complex issues related to economic opportunity, fair taxation, equal rights, and respect. Many of the issues she deals with are complex, deep, and very important to our livelihood as individuals, community, and nation. Most of us don't even understand the complexity of the health care and economic issues, she supports. President Trump does not look at her work with any depth, instead he hyper-focuses on one aspect of her lengthy career and uses name calling to demean her.

To demean her by using the name of another is to demean that person too. He is making fun of Senator Warren by using the name of a brave young Native American women who endured oppression during one of the first European settlements in the United States. Pocahontas represents the struggles that Native Americans faced time and again as immigrants from many nations settled in the Americas. Instead of using her name to demean, the President should use Pocahontas' story to educate, demonstrate strength, and point us in a direction of doing better with regard to respect and care for all of America's people. It's not surprising that Trump shows little respect for either of these women as we rarely see him stand up for women in any way.

Further, he demeaned the men he was there to honor to by using their good work as an opportunity to forward his disrespect, campaigning, and disregard for others he knows little about or disagrees with. President Trump, time and again, rules for President Trump--he is at the center of his mission, his efforts, his speak, and his work. He demonstrates little care for anyone but himself, and his policies, name calling, tweets, and speak demonstrate that. We have a president that disgraces all of us, and a president that uplifts the voices of racism, disrespect, and hate. To demean others seems to make him feel more empowered and strong.

As an American citizen, I can speak up to the best of my ability, and then do the work I believe in at home and at school each day. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I know that disrespect and ignorance is not the path to developing a strong nation that promotes life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. We must all work together to raise up those respectful, intelligent, and altruistic leaders amongst us--the people who will help us to continue to build a nation that brings people together and develop life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. Senator Warren is one of those leaders, and there are many more amongst us--leaders who are willing to work day after day to raise up American values, opportunity, and respect for one another.

What is the impact of that idea or effort?

How do we measure the impact of our efforts? When are our efforts truly enriching and life-changing, and when do those efforts look good on paper or in theory, but actually have little impact? How do we measure that?

As we think of the limited time, space, and resources most schools face, the topic of impact becomes important. If we waste resources, time, and space on efforts that are less impactful, then we don't have what we need to build ideas and practice that lead to substantial impact.

To work towards greater impact, we have to take a deep look at where our problems and potential lie? We also have to look deeply at the mission of the work we do on our own and with others? What is the mission of your work, and how do your efforts make that mission visible?

At this juncture, my mission is to do the following:
  • Foster and contribute to a respectful, focused, and successful learning community
  • Teach in ways that foster cultural proficiency and respect
  • Successfully teach math, science, and reading standards
Learning Community
As a contributor and participant in the learning community, it's important to me that I invest time and energy into efforts that matter. I also want to advocate for a learning community that is mission-based. In that effort, I want to support good effort to create, revisit, and revise our mission and goals as needed in order to do the best that we can for our students, their families, and educators. I don't want to sign on to efforts that are less impactful or connected to our mission.

Cultural Proficiency and Respect
There's much we can do to continually build a more culturally proficient and respectful learning community. I think it's important that we think deeply about this as a learning community, and move forward with efforts that truly make a difference. 

Math/Science Learning
This is at the heart of the work I do, and there is much to do to build the learning and teaching in these areas. Currently time is the biggest challenge since there isn't the time to teach these subjects in the way I would like to. I need more time for preparation and planning, and more time for teaching. I also need more space to teach these subjects effectively. I will continue to focus in on these subjects and suspect that I'll spend a good amount of time in the summer and next year devoted to this work. 

This Friday our team will have an opportunity to think deeply about the processes we use and efforts we engage in with regard to leading our students, colleagues, and each other forward towards enriching our collaborative model of teaching and learning. I'm looking forward to this day as well as the efforts to make our program more impactful in ways that matter. 

Teaching New Material

While Jo Boaler encourages us to teach math with greater depth, problem solving, and exploration, the reality remains that our standards-based curriculum includes many new concepts, skills, and knowledge points to relay, information that is often best relayed through a step-by-step introduction. Ideally that introduction would be preceded or followed-up by worthy, hands-on, meaningful exploration, but we often simply run out of time for that rich learning. However, it's that rich exploration and problem solving that makes the learning engaging, empowering, and memorable.

I am not giving up on Boaler's ideas as I believe in her research, but I also have to meet the expectations of introducing a large number of math concepts, skills, and knowledge points this year. So I'll take a procedural approach with regard to introducing the concepts and continue to look for time to deepen the learning experiences as Boaler's research encourages us to do.

Monday, November 27, 2017

How Can I Creatively Use Time, Strategy, and Effort to Develop Student Success?

Most teachers wonder how they might use time, strategy, and effort to develop students' learning success. They return home most nights giving the day a bit of reflection that asks the following questions:

  • What worked today?
  • What didn't work?
  • What are the current, future learning/teaching goals?
  • How can I successfully reach those goals?
To participate in this daily reflection, is to constantly revise and rework the teaching/learning schedule, efforts, exercises, projects, and endeavor to achieve betterment. This is different than sticking to a script no matter what, and instead means that we keep refining the script to teach better and support students more.

Educators who think and reflect like this are rarely seeing the impossible, but instead open to the possible. Educators who do this are clear about their goals, and open to finding ways to achieve those goals. Rather than sticking to tight parameters, these educators push the boundaries and look at teaching from many angles with the only constant being to do what's best for students.

As I consider the question at the top of the page, I am finding that I'm engaging in more deep discussions, one-to-one, and small group endeavor to tease out what helps students succeed. For example today I had the chance to meet one-to-one with a child, and as I did I recognized one significant change I can make to his strategy repertoire to improve his math performance and understanding. It would have been difficult for me to focus on this strategy with the chance to work one-to-one with the student.

So as I consider the many ways that family members and educators work with students, and how students also coach themselves ahead, I am reminded of the following questions:
  • What re the primary goals for the work I am doing?
  • How do I forward and inform my practice so I am meeting those goals?
  • What does my regular practice of reflection and assessment look like, and how do I use that work to revise and refine the learning/teaching I engage in?
  • How do I plan ahead to forward goals, and how do I communicate with and support colleagues as we work together in this endeavor?
As educators, family members, and/or students do we get mired in schedules, strategies, practice, and effort that's less impactful and successful? Do we forget to revisit our endeavor in an effort to revise and refine for greater result? Do we try to do it alone when, in truth, it is in our collaboration that we generally do a better job? There are many questions to ask and much work to do on this teaching/learning path, and if we give these tasks the time deserved, we will be proud of the results gained. Onward. 

What's Your Place With Regard to the Big Picture

I like using the big picture to guide my teaching/learning work, yet at this time, this year, I'm focusing in on the details of my teaching/learning work. I am wholly focused on the specific goals of community building, promoting positive learning-to-learning skills/attitudes, math education, STEAM, team, and cultural proficiency. That doesn't leave a lot of time for big picture think and action. The good news here is that many colleagues are focused on those big picture events, and it seems like streams of communication, advocacy, and teamwork are becoming more fluid, transparent, and powerful in the system where I work--this is good news, the kind of news that allows a teacher like me to take part in the big picture efforts, while also having the time and support to do my work in the classroom well.

As I think of the big picture, I'm happy that our superintendent is focused on the goal of listening to all stakeholders with regard to creating a vision for the school system. I'm similarly happy that our union president and so many union members are thinking deeply about the work that needs to be done to empower our school system in terms of optimal work conditions so that we may serve students and their families well. Further there are multiple teams and committees working in earnest to better all aspects of our collective and individual work including our practice related to specific disciplines, cultural proficiency, social-emotional learning, health/wellness, and the arts and culture. There is a vibrancy here that's inspiring.

Further, notes of advocacy seem to be more readily read and accepted than challenged and criticized--this is also a positive move. Some still don't respond to letters advocating for better and different, but more do respond, and this is good.

So as I move forward, I'll continue to advocate and support fluid streams of communication share, positive debate, and research-based practice and effort. I hope that colleagues will continue to and increase their share of their professional learning and pursuits. I hope that administrators will continue to build their practice of sharing the news and information related to our individual and collective work while also inviting the voices of all stakeholders to honest debate and discussion related to those efforts, and I hope those voices are taken seriously and considered with depth since we know that the voices and ideas of those on the front lines of teaching and learning are vital to a system's strength and development. Further, I hope that our system will continue to reach beyond our boundaries to learn about, advocate for, and participate in efforts to better education for all, everywhere.

It's always important to entertain the dance from big picture to individual/focused practice, and as we dance that dance, it's essential that we support one another in ways that help us to stay the course towards best possible practice and service to students, colleagues, and families.

Math Teaching: Focus in on Learners

All fifth graders took the unit assessment. Most performed well, but a few surprisingly did not perform as expected. What happened to these earnest and hard working students when they took the assessment?

In the next couple of weeks, I'm going to find time to sit down with those students one-to-one to watch them take the assessment again. I want to see how they approach the task, deconstruct language, check their work, and both write and type their results on paper and into the computer. Why didn't these students whose performance in class demonstrates good understanding of the material not do well on the offline/online assessment? What happened?

I know that these one-to-one sessions will result in excellent learning for both teacher and students. Students will better learn how to take a test and translate their knowledge into a positive assessment score while I'll learn how to teach these students better. This will be a main focus of the next month of teaching and learning.

The Month Ahead: December 2017

Today begins our final month of December 2017, and the month that marks the 2/5 mark of the school year. As usual, this month will mostly be directed towards lots of skills and practice which I find to be a good complement to the holiday festivities that occur throughout the month.

Math Focus
We'll spend a considerable amount of time focused on building math fluency and skill with multiple algorithms, problems, and activities to build fluency with multiplication, addition, and subtraction of whole numbers and decimals. I'll also focus in on students' learning-to-learn skills specifically with positive self talk, making good choices, and deconstructing math language in this regard.

Community Building
The class will launch the character campaign on December 11th. In the meantime we'll focus in on the attributes of character and our presentation for school assembly.

Science Study
My homeroom will focus in on the attributes and science of matter while the other homerooms will focus on space and Earth science. Later in the year students will travel from homeroom to homeroom to study each science topic.

Our teaching team will attend a conference focused on teacher leadership. During the day we'll focus in on our team goals of building greater cultural proficiency as well as our ability to team to serve each child and family well.

Special Events
There's a number of special teaching/learning events this month too including concerts, field studies, and expert visitors. We'll also end the month with a few homeroom days and perhaps a pajama day too.

With twenty teaching days until the new year, we'll give each day and each student positive attention as we continue to move towards keeping good focus and meeting goals.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Attention to Detail Leads the Learning/Teaching Path

As I think about the the days after Thanksgiving holiday,  I am thinking about the ways I want to focus more on attention to detail--attention to detail with regard to student service, logistics, daily lessons, and teamwork. It's not about the big picture right now as that work has received considerable thought--it's about the details.

To make that visible, I want to revisit service delivery maps, administrative work organization, collegiality, teamwork, and lesson planning and response. The goal in the end is to provide the best possible service to students, families, and colleagues as a learning/teaching team member. Being faithful to weekly meetings, needed planning time, extra help sessions, and family conferences/meetings is a good way to make this work visible. Similarly making that one hour or so a day for the administrative paperwork that goes with the job helps too.

Overall it's been a good year, and I'd like to continue pushing in with the details above to continue to better my practice as expected and desired. Onward.

Knowing Your Class

A class of children is full of surprises. As you move through the year, you learn more and more about them. What some children enjoy, others don't enjoy. What some classes gravitate towards, others don't show interest in.

Today the students surprised us with their incredible creativity with the Turkey-in-Disguise persuasive essay and project--the students work was amazing. Similarly I was surprised to see who really enjoyed our class films and who did not. Further, I'm recognizing that I have some good fix-it students who can recognize where problems exist and how to fix them.

Over the holiday, I want to think about the class's individual and collective personality as I plan ahead--what they enjoy, the questions they ask, and the needs they have will dictate how we approach the topics we'll cover in the days ahead. Overall I enjoy this time of the year when we have developed good relationships with students and families, and now we begin to deepen the work we do for optimal learning and teaching.

Math Education: The Advantage of One-to-One Support

There were a handful of students who did not perform as expected on a recent assessment. I want to understand deeply why this happened so in the next few weeks I'll make the time to let those students take the test again one-to-one with me. As they take the test, I want to watch and listen for the following:

  • How do these children read the problems? Do they read carefully, highlighting main words and questions or do they rush the reading?
  • How do students interpret the questions and make sense of them? Do they draw a picture to support their understanding, and do they stop to think if their answers make sense?
  • How do they calculate? Do they check their work? Do they write down their numbers carefully?
  • How do they sustain stamina throughout the test so that they are giving the start of the task the same energy as the end of the task?
In each of these cases, the students have demonstrated good understanding in class, yet their test performance did not match their class performance. I believe that taking the test one-to-one with me will help me to teach these students how to take tests better, and it will also give me great insights as to how to teach these students.

Sometimes the time we set aside to work with a child one-to-one reaps great insights and advantage that empower the teaching/learning program going forward. That's my aim with this approach. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Do Your Best and Accept What Happens

The best we can do is to do our best, then accept what happens. Educators spoke up via surveys, letters, and attendance at school committee meetings to voice their concern about changing start times. We worry about the impact a later start and end to the school day will have on our young students, their academic efforts, and other programming such as field trips, extra help, family conferences, childcare, and extracurricular activities. Now the decision lies in the hands of the community--what will they choose?

Many of us gave up several hours last night to attend the school committee meeting, time that we typically spend preparing for school the next day and taking care of our families. This week it was also time we would have used to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. The issue meant enough to us to give up that time. We voiced our concerns and hopes for a win-win solution, a solution that would positively impact middle school and high school students as well as young students, their families, and the teachers who work with them.

What more can we do? We can continue to speak up when possible. We can share our concerns via writing. Then we'll accept the decision that is made, and do our best to continue to meet the many expectations presented with a somewhat less positive schedule. We have to remember that we are not superhuman, and similar to the students we're considering with regard to a school start change, good rest, health, and scheduling is important to each of us too. That helps us to do the work we've chosen and desire to do. We have a fairly good contract, and those are the guidelines by which we are expected to work--guidelines that frame our teaching/learning efforts. Attention to those guidelines will help us to do a good job with reasonable expectations. That's important.

Change and Big Decisions

Like the amoeba, the elementary school teacher is often asked to morph and change year after year to accommodate multiple teaching/learning decisions and changes. Our voices are typically small when it comes to big decisions that affect the work we do, and that's why our unions are important. We have to work together to promote optimal teaching/learning conditions--the kinds of conditions that allow us to do our best work to serve students and their families well.

Decision processes differ from decision to decision and group to group. There's no one overarching decision-making process in place. Yet as I think about this, I think it is important to make decisions with as much transparency, inclusion of all stakeholders as possible, good researching and rationale, and adequate timelines.

I am amazed at how much transportation issues impact school decisions. Last year the school committee spent tremendous time and effort on the issue of where to park the school busses, and now the busses are impacting the decision of when to start school too. I never realized that transportation impacts what we can do to educate students so dramatically. It would be a big job to look at this impact in depth--a job that requires looking at districting, bus costs, and the many,  many routes needed. Recently an MIT group created a new way to look at bus routes. I imagine they used discrete math to maximize the time and busses. This same group will be working with a local system to figure out their bus situation too.

Every decision at school seems to be a big decision since all services and school efforts are tightly woven together--new start times for our schools will challenge lots of systems and efforts that are in place, effort like field studies, extra help, commutes, schedules, child care, after school events, and time available for learning will all be impacted. Yet, this is what happens at schools as we continue to change.

I worry about the impending change of later school start times given the tremendous expectation of rigor and time-on-task at the elementary school. I worry that students, families, and educators will simply run out of steam given so many changes, and changes where the needs of elementary school students and their families seem secondary to the needs and schedules of others. I am concerned about the impact these changes will have on our well-crafted programs and schedules.

I wish the current change, a change in school start could be made in a way that profits all rather than only some. I think it could be done, but that depends on whether it's a priority to those who make and fund the decisions. Onward.

Monday, November 20, 2017

School Start Time Challenge

Research points us in the direction of starting schools at a later time for middle school and high school students, yet to do that at the expense of our elementary students or "morning larks" as they were described by Dr. Judith Owens seems to me to be a price too high when we think of the need to educate all children well.

Why can't we come up with a solution where young elementary school students are able to start school as early as 8 and finish by 2 or 2:30 while their older high school and middle school community members begin at 8:30, the sweet spot for teens noted in the sleep research. How could we make this happen? What will it take? Why would we want this? What's holding us back?

Sports is a big dilemma since sports are based on an earlier high school start--to respond to the research, sports programs need to be pushed later into the day. I don't see why this can't happen since research shows that middle school and high school students who get enough rest do stay up later, and therefore, it seems to me that they'll be able to participate in sports at later times.

Elementary students, on the other hand, are highly energized early in the day--that's their best time to tackle the rigorous standards-based curriculum posed to help them develop a strong foundation of learning-to-learn skills and foundation knowledge, concept, and skill. To start school later for elementary school students is to miss out on their best learning time, and to use that time for other tasks that may tire them out, but not necessarily contribute to the rich learning possible. Just as it's great to maximize later school starts for high school students, it seems that it's equally advantageous to begin school on the early side for elementary school students.

Yet transportation is a costly issue that impacts school start times, and to hire more busses costs money, but if academic success is important, perhaps that money is well spent. That's for community members to decide. Or perhaps, there are different ways to think about transportation, ways that make optimal times for elementary, middle school, and high school students. I'm not a bus expert, and would have to do a lot of research to see if there is a better solution.

As it is, we're having difficulty fitting in the needed teaching/learning during the optimal 8:45-12pm slot of energized time students have at school, and to push it forward another 15 minutes to 9:00am will make it more difficult to maximize the potential that exists. That said, a decision will be made and I'll follow through. I just hope it's a decision that honors what elementary school students need as much as what the middle school and high school students need. That would be a fair and equitable decision.

Some possible decisions to, perhaps, lead to this equitable decision might include the following:
  • Create a new sports league of schools that start high school and middle school at 8:30 - 9:00
  • Consider bus routes with multi-age students and drop off elementary school students first for an earlier start, then high school and middle school students
  • Start later and tell other schools you play sports with that your games have to be later
It seems like starting high school at 8:30 or 9:00 would give the busses time to pick up the elementary school students beforehand. Let's see what happens. 

Using Google Form Assessments to Build Metacognition

Students don't have to wait days for me to wade through 75 tests to find out their scores. Instead with Google Form tests, they know their results the minute they press the submit key, and if they don't think they were scored correctly they can come right up to me and debate their score. This new approach to assessing students is efficient and leads to greater ownership with regard to performance and result.

As I get better at making the tests, I am watching how students respond. This efficiency is also allowing me to delve deeper with regard to what students readily understand and what is still confusing to them. It's also giving me a glimpse of what happens when they take an online standardized test. For example, many adept math students simply type their answers in too fast and make silly mistakes related to accuracy, not skill. And so many get weighed down with the language and simply read the directions incorrectly or skip reading the directions altogether. Then, of course, there are the precision masters who are the first ones to figure out where I could have done a better job making the test--I appreciate their eye for detail.

I think the use of Google forms is helping students to become better at metacognition, thinking about their math learning and performance. As they complete answers and solve problems, they know that they'll be scored right away and that makes them want to ask clarifying questions, take their time, and answer precisely. Further practice tests similar to the final tests give them a chance to use Google form to perfect their skill with specific standards and concepts. They can take those tests over and over again.

Finally, as I've stated before, the fact that the data is poured right into a spread sheet gives me lots of analysis opportunities which, in turn, help me to use the test data more efficiently and strategically to inform instruction. Google Form assessments are a terrific way to uplift the teaching/learning program in ways that matter, and hopefully will result in better metacognition, math learning, test taking, and standardized test scores.

Goals Ahead: November/December 2017 Teaching

It's a short and celebratory week with Thanksgiving just a few days away

This week I'll focus on the following:

Math Assessment
Students will do their best on the unit two assessment. I'll coach them to use good test taking strategy. Later they'll positive learning strategy to puzzle through a number of relatively new concepts using online exercises.

Mars Expedition and Space Exploration
Students will have the opportunity to virtually travel to Mars and explore the universe. It will be an exciting and eye-opening event.

Coordinate Grids
Students will learn the basics of plotting points, then practice by making coordinate grid pictures.

Good Character Campaign
Students will continue to focus on our school wide Good Character Campaign with a focus on how we make the attributes of good character visible using this page as a guide. The rationale for this unit is that people with good character typically enjoy greater happiness and more success.

Thanksgiving Breakfast
Our school sponsors an event to foster our collegiality. It is a long held tradition that recognizes the strength and promise of our camaraderie.

After the holiday, the focus will include these events:

Unit Three Math
Students will review their learning success so far this year as we discuss ways to successfully master the standards in unit three. Then we'll get started with the learning.

Culture Focus
Prior to Thanksgiving, students focused on culture in their social studies class. That focus will continue as we entertain many cultures during December when students discuss their holiday celebrations. A deeper focus will occur with respect to the ancient Mayan culture.

There will be a number of days devoted mostly to science in order to complete our first science units.

Character Campaign
With posters, announcements, and other activities, students will foster a school-wide good character campaign.

Math Fun
Wednesday math will be devoted to a number of fun math activities to build skill in numerous standards-based areas, areas often not taught with depth until the end of the year, but areas that are included in mid-year and spring assessments.

Keeping the focus is essential to good teaching, and naming the priorities is a good way to support fidelity to that focus. Onward.

Voice and Teaching Well

Educators met with the school committee to voice their thoughts and ideas related to an upcoming decision about school start times. School start times considerations is a topic that's being considered in many school systems in response to research that demonstrates that teens need more sleep. The decisions related to this topic are more complicated than one would think since school schedules are intricate weaves that synthesize academic, social, emotional, and physical needs for optimal programming. Other realities that affect these decisions include traffic patterns, work start times, daylight, and daycare costs/availability. Few decisions related to schools are simple since schools reach out to support all students, and those students represent significant diversity with regard to age, culture, family style, needs, challenges, and strengths.

What's important in all of this is that people stand up to express their thoughts and ideas--decisions are best made when those decisions are inclusive representing the voices of all stakeholders. Though timely, it's best to create the kind of process that listens to everyone's voices including the voices of educators, students, and family members.

As educators we can't be afraid to respectfully stand up and speak out for what we believe is right and good. Similarly we have to be ready to listen to the voices of others too--to see it from their point of view. None of us know it all or have all the answers, and our good work profits from our collaboration with others.

Years ago when an important issue was discussed in our school system, teachers mostly stayed quiet. Many citizens spoke up, yet their point of view was not considered with depth. I went along with the decision made only to realize later that many of the points that citizens were making were not listened too, but were rightly made. The decision made resulted in a lot of problems, problems I didn't expect, but problems that many citizens had predicted. In hindsight, it would have been better if all sides of the story were considered before a decision was made. That would have resulted in less pain and problems.

I often want to make decisions quickly, but the older I get, the more I recognize that it's usually better to take your time with important decisions. If wait time isn't going to create harm, then it's better to take the time to use good process to make optimal decisions. Rushing usually does result in less good, more costly decisions, while taking our time has the potential to result in win-win decisions.

Of course, as my father taught me, we can't complain about decisions if we stay silent. Instead we have to push ourselves to be involved in important decision making. We have to make the time with our colleagues to review the information, listen with an open mind, and share our point of view. Whether we are educators, family members, or students, our good work depends on using our voices to speak out and stand up for what matters.

As educators our experience, expertise, and point of view matters with regard to decisions that impact our students. The experience, expertise, and point of view of students, family members, community members, and administrators matter too. It is in coming together with all points of view and good process that lead to optimal decisions. We can't forget that.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Idea Percolation

Sometimes I just sit for hours and let the ideas percolate. This happens when new paths are being forged and new ideas are taking shape. I can feel them working in me, and it's hard to relax and rest when this is true. Generally this idea percolation takes place prior to big events such as the start of school, holidays, travel or milestone events such as birthdays, graduations, wedding, and new babies.

So as I try to bring the percolation to fruition, I'm thinking way ahead beyond the holiday season and well into the new year. What ideas are brewing?

It's more of the same, a time for deepening and enriching craft, team, trust, and practice. Unlike a shiny new car, this is similar to a favored painting that becomes more dear over time. In less than a decade when I leave my practice, I want to leave on top which means providing the best possible service to families, students, and colleagues--as I've written about this is a period of pushing in, going deeper, and getting better at the most critical aspects of the teaching profession which are all about engaging, empowering, and educating children so that they continue to develop with strength, confidence, positivity, creativity, and a solid foundation in the basics of literacy, numeracy, knowledge, and life skills.

To reach this crescendo is all about efforts to quiet, build character, listen, observe, read, research, and practice, practice, practice--that's the path toward this desired momentum, and then, perhaps, after that I'll write about it, use what I've learned in a different setting, or venture in other ways--only time will tell.

I've bought a few good books to read as I journey in this direction, and as with any new or renewed journey there's a sense of curiosity about where this path will take me.

The Content of Your Character

Students watched MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech" which led to a deep discussion about what's important. Later during an Open Circle meeting we discussed the idea of forwarding a Good Character campaign. Children had all kinds of awesome ideas including:
On Wednesday, just before Thanksgiving, students and I will meet again to discuss how we might divide into Character Teams and make good character visible in our individual and collective lives. Each team will be responsible for making posters and completing other related tasks for the Good Character Campaign which we'll figure out together.

As we do all of this we'll let the information on this Developing Character page lead our efforts. If you have any additional ideas, please share.

Priorities on the Teaching Path: November 2017

This is a year of pushing in and focusing deeply on the classroom and school team--how can I contribute more and better to teach well?

As I think about the teaching path ahead, and this central question, I identify the following efforts that are empowering direction:

Family-Teachers-Students Teaching/Learning Team
Family members have been an incredible source of capacity this year. I have reached out to numerous parents to support me with the efforts to teach math well, and they have responded with incredible honesty, care, and support. This level of teaming is resulting in much greater student investment, understanding, and development which is awesome. I want to continue to make more time for this in ways that matter. In some cases, this requires push since some families are difficult to get ahold of and others are sometimes more difficult to understand with regard to their needs and what will help, but instead of turning away from the challenging situations, I want to work with my colleagues to be more inviting and making the family-teacher-student team accessible and successful for all.

Extra Help: Homework Club
By making time for extra help, I am gaining tremendous capacity with regard to student-teacher relationships, understanding my learners, and the ability to help students in ways that matter. In the past, I was unable to provide this extra support due to my own parenting schedule and duties, but now that my children are older, I have that extra half hour most days to open the classroom up to students who want to drop in, ask questions, gain support, and work on their home study at school. The hum in the room during these extra help sessions is energizing, and what I learn from these young, enthusiastic learners who are choosing to be there is meaningful, inspiring, and ever so useful when it comes to teaching well.

Everyone in the Classroom is both a Teacher and Learner
To foster a culture that understands that everyone in the room is both a teacher and a learner is to gain far more teachers, and an openness to learning from your peers. Often students who master a concept will help a student who is working towards mastery. There's an eager attitude here that promotes best possible teaching and learning. When students help each other, everyone benefits and it gives me more time as the teacher to zero in on specific students and their learning needs.

Welcoming Learning Environment
The cozy chairs, bright rug, and multiple supplies make the room a cozy learning environment. This is positive, and the more I work to create that atmosphere in spirit and set-up, the better.

Email Me
I encourage families and students to email me anytime they have a question. I find that this open invitation typically results in a number of emails upfront, and less after that. To answer people's questions right away is to create a sense of camaraderie and trust which leads to greater efficiency and ease of questioning after that. I tell students "Don't Stay Stuck, Ask," and I tell family members, "No question is to small, please email me with your questions and concerns."

Teacher as Learner
Vulnerability is a large part of this year's focus as you have to make yourself vulnerable so that you can learn. These vulnerability means owning your mistakes, reaching out for help, asking questions, and taking responsible risk to better what you can do for each other. The teacher as learner is the teacher who continually betters his/her work for the benefit of all. There's sometimes that tendency to close the door to new ideas, suggestions, and ways of increasing capacity, but we can't do that if we're going to teach well--we have to be ready and willing to ask questions and then to listen to the advice that our colleagues, families, students, administrators, and community members have to better our impact.

As I look deeply into my practice, the areas above are areas I want to focus on in order to build my capacity to teach and learn well. Onward.