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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Let Them Lead

I sat back and watched a leader lead.

I thought about how I might do it differently, yet the objective of the event had little to do with my current work or objectives. To get involved in a discussion about the process, objective, or event would only serve to derail my priorities. The leader's efforts were not doing anyone substantial harm, in fact it was clear to see that some were responding well to the process and focus. I continued to watch and had little to say.

No one can be all things or know all. There are countless directions to travel in today's world. This is the reason why I support greater focus on systems and processes rather than individuals these days. When systems and processes are working well with good communication, a lot of decisions are left up to individuals who are well suited for the leadership roles they play.

I want to think more about this, but for now, it helps me to direct my own work and effort to the objectives I've prioritized so that I can lead those efforts well without interruption from entanglement in objectives that don't connect or affect where I'm headed. Onward.

The Dance of Big Picture to Detail Think: This Week's Agenda

After a morning of big-picture think, it's now time to enter the world of details as I plan for the week ahead. Going from big-picture to detail think is like squeezing your brain through a rock crevice, you can feel the squeeze. Nevertheless, I find that the best process is to quickly list next steps after big picture think to stay on track.

So with all those big ideas in mind, and all the details of the week's teaching ahead, I'll follow this list.

Family-Student-Teacher Conferences
This week most of the families and students will meet with fifth grade teachers to discuss the children's education program and goals.
  • Organize conference materials prior to 7:30am start of conferences
  • Copy Xtra-Math parent letters for students who will be using that site to practice facts
  • Prep by reviewing student portfolio, parent surveys, and other data points.
  • At conferences meet family members, invite student to lead his/her conference by highlighting their best work.
  • Ask family members if they have any questions or information to share
  • Review and discuss student stats and goals with student and families
  • Invite parents to have a few minutes alone with the teacher if desired
  • Follow up by adding notes about the conference in student-information binder
Place Value Unit
We'll continue our efforts to teach this unit step-by-step

Facts and Skills Study and Practice
I'll announce to students who made facts level moves, and introduce the practice that's been created for each student. 

RTI Reading Group
Remind students to do their assignment before our meeting on Tuesday. Give students the DAZE on Tuesday.

Independent Reading
Provide students with time to independently read and use that time for individual student coaching and catch-up.

Math RTI
Focus Math RTI this week on TenMarks Place Value efforts.

Math Tech
Focus this week's Wednesday's Math Tech on having students work with similar-ability partners to take a math practice test together to build skill and test taking ability. 

Goals Meeting
Meet with the principal to discuss the school year goals and my own evaluation cycle and efforts. 

Administrative Tasks
Provide parents with handbook sign-off sheet and purple sheet for completion at conferences. Complete, if time, reimbursement forms and field trip check request forms. Also complete field trip and expert visitor contracts, phone calls, and research. Complete permission forms for personal/professional days. 

Professional Learning
Continue to prep the "Reflect for Success" presentation for the MTA New Teacher Conference on November 4th. 

Teachers Union Focus and Opportunity

I am proud to be a member of the Wayland Teachers Association (WTA), Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), and National Education Association (NEA). Data demonstrates that states with strong teachers' unions have strong education programs. I value this reality. Further I like what the teachers unions at the local, state, and national level can do to help me uplift my practice in ways that matter.

At the state and national level, the teachers' unions are continually lobbying for legislation, policies, and supports that uplift teaching and learning for all students. As Diane Ravitch's famous quote states, "Teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions." Anyone who has read anything about education knows that good schools lead to strong nations, and strong nations make the time to support optimal teaching/learning well. As education goes, the USA is loosing step to other nations that are doing a better job overall to foster optimal teaching and learning. Fortunately I teach in Massachusetts, a state that takes education seriously and a state with both a strong department of education and a strong teachers' union. Our students are making good gains, and our state and teachers' union are not sitting idly by, but instead continuing to look for ways to better our schools through advocacy, debate, research, professional learning, and more.

The state and national unions also host a large number of events, websites, and outreach to help educators develop their practice to teach well. These supports are valuable to educators who seek to teach well. The supports are typically affordable and easily accessible. This is equally important to educators who have busy schedules and tight budgets.

At the local level, our union helps to form a positive agreement for teachers' working conditions. We work in conjunction with leadership to solve problems and forward the potential that exists. Our local union focus is admirable, and one that, I believe, teachers everywhere would be willing to embrace as its focused on the good work possible:

As I work with the local union as a representative and secretary, my aim is to help with regular communication and a resourceful up-to-date website to support educators' efforts and aim. As I think of the direction of our local union, I hope we can foster greater momentum with regard to systematic effort, regular inclusive and transparent communication, greater educator voice and choice, and the continued positive, inclusive, and values-driven system development and success. Teachers in the system where I work are proud to teach and generally go well above the call of duty to serve students and families. This is one reason that I've stayed in my role in the system for so long.

In all levels of the union, I find that my voice is regarded with respect and that all points of view are welcome and considered. Our unions are not uniform in that we expect all teachers to be exactly the same or agree on all issues. Instead our unions are democratic bodies with lots of debate and discourse about what's important when it comes to what is right and good for students, their families, schools, and educators. Unlike the preconceptions about unions that often occur, our unions actually serve to elevate our practice and supports so that we have what we need to teach well.

What is your role with regard to the unions you belong to or the unions that support the teachers who serve your students and community? How can the unions better serve you, and how can you better support and advise unions? I am a proud union member and a proud member of the local and state school systems. Teachers can't do their best work if they go it alone; we need the support of dedicated groups that support what we need to do our jobs well, and unions are one of the most important groups that support teachers and children. When system, state, national, and community leadership are willing to work with unions, a win-win situation occurs that fosters betterment for all. I support this kind of positive collaboration and effort rather than the adverse relationships that sometimes occur due to close mindedness, ego, and will for greater power.

Are you a union member or are you a community member who supports unions? How can you work with the union to better teaching/learning opportunities for all? Where do you think your union and its supports can change to affect betterment? I'm thinking about these questions, and invite your commentary if interested. I look forward to discussing these questions with colleagues, community members, and friends in the days to come.

Teachers Should See the Data

In many school systems, teachers are not able to see the data collected from a wide variety of assessments and efforts. Instead administrators analyze the data and give the teachers' their interpretation. I think this is a big problem.

Fortunately in the system where I work, most data is shared with teachers. Of course, I think all data should be shared with educators, but I'll settle for most right now. When the data is shared with the teachers, they can truly look deeply at who they are teaching and what is happening with those students.

Many fear big data, and others resent standardized tests. I am still a proponent of a balanced, streamlined approach to informal/formal and local/state/national/global assessments and data. I believe that some big data and standardized tests are good, but I don't think we should be spending lots and lots of money on this. Instead I think we need to keep the measures simple, targeted, less costly, and meaningful so that we have the money and time to teach and assess in ways that are meaningful, child-friendly, and successful within the contexts that we teach. I also believe that we have to be careful about the way we analyze and use data. Too often, data analysis is skewed to please a group rather than to tell the truth.

That being said, I think that the data collection and analysis we do can help us to answer the following questions, questions which I believe are meaningful and helpful to our practice.

Where did your students hit the mark, and where is there room for improvement?
As I looked at a number of data sources this year, I recognized that there was one area, in particular, with regard to math that my students can do better with. I was actually surprised that my students didn't do as well in this area, and I will dig deeper and teach differently this year to make change in this regard. There were other areas where the teaching was very successful, so I'll build on that in those areas.

Did the data result in any surprises or trends?
Teachers know their students well. They know who is doing well and who is struggling so to look for surprises and trends is to take what you know and then compare it with the test results. I noticed once again that students with whom you have a good relationship with always perform better. Relationships matter. I also noticed that consistent programming and time-on-task with targeted, culturally proficient efforts with skilled educators and assistants made a significant difference with regard to doing well. When services may have been delivered in less targeted and more choppy ways, the results were not as good. Further I noticed trends related to opportunities too, and wondered how we might bridge the opportunity gap to help some students achieve better and more.

Which students made significant growth?
In Massachusetts growth data each year is based on comparing students to other like-age, like-ability students to see how they performed. As I think of growth data over the years, it's always been interesting to see which students seem to earn greater growth.

Teachers that Look and Live Like Their Students
As research suggests, in general over the years, it has been students who are girls of similar socio-economic upbringing to me in my class that have earned the greatest growth scores. This affirms the research that notes that students do better if their teachers look and live like them, and provides a good rationale for diversifying our teaching staffs at schools.

Relationships Matter
I've also noticed over the years, as stated above, that the students whom I share the best relationships with, always demonstrate greater growth. This affirms the research that says that teacher-student-family relationships matter when it comes to effective teaching and learning. This is one reason I like our shared-teaching model at fifth grade as there are many of us with whom students can connect, and a year's growth is not dependent on the relationship with one teacher, but many. This is positive.

Blended Learning and Intelligent Assistants
I also found that blended learning approaches led to greater growth over the years. Students who may struggle with reading, but have access to multi-modal programs online like Khan Academy and Symphony Math demonstrated substantial growth. Both Khan Academy and Symphony Math move beyond text-only math teaching and use multiple models, audio, and other paths to effective learning. Further, I found that when teachers and teaching assistants worked with online intelligent assistants like Khan Academy or Symphony Math in addition to hand held manipulatives, projects, and paper/pencil, they were able to more effectively support student learning.

Other Factors that Seemed to Make a Difference
As I assessed multiple data points, I noticed a few other factors that seemed to make a positive difference.

Optimal Scheduling
Time on task with targeted, skilled teaching and learning experiences matter. In the past few years, our team has analyzed scheduling and made recommendations to improve the teaching/learning schedule. Our recommendations were honored, and overall, we have a terrific schedule with plenty of time-on-task for good teaching. I believe this had led to stronger scores. In areas where the scheduling consistency was weaker, there has been less growth.

Targeted Teaching and Learning
Generally in areas where educators were reflecting and researching on their own and with colleagues about the success and use of potential programs, I noticed greater growth. In areas where there appeared to be less reflection, research, and utilization of targeted planning and approaches, there seemed to be less growth and success. It's integral that every educator is making the time to assess, reflect, plan, implement, and assess targeted teaching/learning approaches to meet the needs of the students in front of them.

Qualified Educators
This too is a factor that research affirms. We have to stop the practice of putting our most at-risk students with the least qualified teachers or teaching assistants. We have to be mindful of hiring practices so that students are being taught by highly qualified, dedicated, and capable professionals. This kind of good hiring matters with regard to teaching well, and this kind of effort requires substantial lead time. To partner with local universities may be one good way to find the quality supports you need for your school. Also to gain a diversity of candidates, schools may want to introduce hiring processes that come along with training programs. This is something that school systems could create in conjunction with state and national departments of education.

Family Connections
I was introduced to multiple new approaches of working with families from a west coast teacher who I met through the Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) and then again through the ECET2 movement. She was really reaching out to families with trainings and much more connectivity than is common in schools today. She knew that many of her struggling students had loving family members, but family members distanced from academic support for many reasons. In her school they were making a concerted effort to develop family-school relationships in ways that really matter, deep ways that not only support students socially, but also support students' academic success. It takes more time, money, and effort to support families distanced from at-home academic support, and often schools are resistant to really looking deeply at this issue and working with the greater community to support betterment in this area.

I cull a lot of really good information from data, information that leads my practice forward in ways that matter. I am fortunate that I get to see most of the data so that I can think deeply and creatively about the data to revise and uplift programs in ways that matter on my own and with my colleagues. Sadly some of my friends who teach never get to see the data in holistic, meaningful ways. Instead they are given a small slice of the data with an interpretation made by someone distanced from the classroom. This is unfortunate and continues to demean and disservice these educators by not allowing them to use the data as a good tool and resource to uplift their practice. Fortunately Massachusetts has lots of really good data available to help educators, administrators, and families look deeply at the education of individual children and groups of children. This data can be helpful with regard to what we do as long as it is used to improve our practice and efforts rather than demean and discredit educators, families, and communities. The data has to be looked at as part of the story of a school community--who is that community, where do they see success, and where might they find ways to improve more. Further when the scores are low, the state has to lend financial and state-of-the-art teaching/learning support to help those schools succeed. For example, a friend of mine works in a system that is facing substantial threats from poverty, the opioid crisis, lack of afterschool programs, little transportation, language barriers, abuse and more. This is a system in crisis and a system that does not utilize much of the good research about good learning and teaching in the past few years. I know that the educators in this system go way beyond the call of duty as I've been hearing stories about the system and the educators for years. I know there are pockets of great success in the system, but they need help with the social problems facing them, and they can't solve those problems on their own. Frankly, I think they have to speak up more and lobby for that support from the state.

I could go on and on, but in the end, it's imperative that educators are privvy to all the data that relates to their practice and students so that they can analyze the data on their own and together to make good decisions with administrators about what really matters with regard to the limited time, money, and energy available to teach well. We do a lot well, but as with anything, there is always room for growth and betterment.

Teaching High Risk Students

High risk students in Massachusetts are students who share traits that point to a likelihood of less upcoming academic success than their peers. I looked deeply at the data/experience stories of high risk students this weekend to think more deeply about how we might help those students succeed more. I came up with the following ideas.
  • From the start of school make sure that every child who is high risk has a good tech device and WIFI at home.
  • If children have a long bus ride, allow students to use the device on the bus to read or practice math with fun games.
  • Work with families. Go beyond the typical number and types of parent meetings, and reach out to work more closely together to effect greater academic growth.
  • Work with related agencies that can also provide support to those students.
  • Look deeply at the programming being used and determine if that programming is working, and if it's not working, change it.
  • Make sure that those students are working with the most qualified teachers at all times.
  • Make sure that these students' basic needs are met. Are they eating healthy food, getting enough rest, have the clothes they need for comfort and play, and receive necessary health care.
It's not beyond our collective intelligence or ability to serve high risk students better. Most importantly we have to put their needs center stage in teaching/learning conversations, problem solving, and service in ways that matter. If you're not having this conversation at school with colleagues, then you haven't even taken the first step. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Are You Choosing Goals that Matter?

As I consider a host of goals today, I am wondering if the goals matter? Am I spending time professionally and personally in ways that are meaningful and make a difference? This is an important consideration for all of us.

As I think of my two main schools goals include math mastery and a culturally proficient learning environment, I'm wondering why these goals matter.

First, to learn math well and be able to apply math principles, concepts, skill, and knowledge is to be able to solve problems and manage your world better. We live in a mathematical world, and that knowledge is critical to successful living and learning. So, yes, it's a valuable aim.

And to create a culturally proficient learning environment is to invite all learners into the classroom in ways that empower them, build confidence, and demonstrate that they both matter and are capable of learning. Our website says it well, "Everyone is Welcome Here."

In the professional days ahead, the goal is to find ways to make the efforts to meet these goals visible in the classroom, efforts that include the following:
  • Signage, stories, and other curriculum resources/activities that welcome, empower, and uplift all
  • Field studies that introduce students to, and affirm, many cultures, races, and ways of living/being
  • Open ended projects that offer multiple entry and exit points
  • Time to talk and express what matters 
  • Special events that bring our learning/teaching team together
  • Time to learn math in many ways with substantial support
  • Growth mindset, learning-to-learn, holistic teaching strategies, and social-emotional learning supports/focus to build competent, confident students
  • Blended and differentiated learning paths to help students develop mastery
  • Advocacy for research-based efforts, tools, and teaching
  • Collegial collaboration and continued professional learning
I'm confident that these are goals that matter, and goals that will help to position my students, colleagues, and I for success that makes a difference. Onward. 

Systematic Effort

A colleague and I discussed the advantage of systematic effort and work. Of course when working with people, not everything can be systematic, but when we use a systematic approach as much as possible, the work tends to be more targeted and better.

How can schools embrace more systematic effort to effect better results?

School Year Analysis
In many cases, school year frameworks need to change to effect better systematic effort. For example, I believe that the big decisions should always be made multiple months or years ahead of implementation. Examples of this include the following:
  • Structural supports should be in the planning phase years ahead of need. Administrators need to be mindful of the lifespan of facilities, and when those facilities will need updating, revision, or replacement. In the system where I teach, I imagine the potential of an elementary school campus that mirrors and supports modern approaches to holistic teaching/learning. If that were to happen, initial planning would have to begin now for implementation about 10 years out.
  • Goal setting should happen well ahead of the start of the year. Teachers should arrive at school with ready-to-go new goals, goals built on the past year's experience, efforts, analysis, and reflection related to informal/formal data.
  • Purchasing should occur well ahead of projects, and I support regular purchasing throughout the year rather than one-time big purchases which I feel may cost a system more money and time. I am a fan of systemwide purchasing agencies and protocols that are responsive to ongoing teaching/learning needs as well as to budgetary and time concerns.
  • Curriculum planning and implementation should include a continual development path where teachers are always working in parallel paths of implementation and assessment as well as research and development. 
Good Communication
Inclusive, transparent, timely paths of communication assist systematic decision making and effort. For example, if future efforts are shared in a timely manner, that communication affords the learning/teaching team time to assess the issue with care and iron out any problems that may occur. On the other hand, when efforts are shared and planned at the last minute without inclusion or transparency, that opens the door for rumors, lack of support, and other potential problems. I am a firm believer of regular communication from all parts of an organization on a weekly basis. I am very happy that our state's department of education sends out a weekly communication as that keeps every educator in the state on the same page. I always tell the story of how my husband's former boss and now Governor of Massachusetts sent an inspiring weekly memo to staff, and that memo served to connect all of the staff in a meaningful and effective way. 

Priorities and Goals
Too often we all get lost on our paths to good work. It's much less likely that one will get lost if he/she has taken the time to prioritize and set goals. The same is true for organizations. When organizations make the time upfront for authentic, meaningful, inclusive, and transparent goal setting, people tend to achieve better results. On the other hand, when that goal setting process is late, inauthentic, and lacks a systematic approach, it's likely that the results of the individuals, groups, or organizations won't be as good.

Of course as I write today, I'm thinking about my own teaching and learning in this regard. I just spent a good deal of time analyzing a host of data related to the school year program, and to take my own advice, I've got a lot to do including the following:
  • shoring up the classroom structure and organization--it's quite good, but I can see some room for betterment.
  • goals are created, and now I need to start a regular routine of revisiting those goals and assessing progress on my own and with colleagues.
  • with regard to purchasing, I want to be more thoughtful about this so I'll start by making a spreadsheet of purchasing I do to support the classroom program. I'll include all the useful information so that when our yearly purchasing time occurs, I can be more thoughtful and prepared. 
  • with regard to curriculum planning and development, there are formidable structures in place, and the goal is to deepen the teaching/learning within that structure. I also want to forward a second level of tech advocacy in the months ahead, and I am thinking about how to do that as I believe our current school restrictions with regard to technology may be hindering the success of some students in some specific ways. I think this is particularly true for ELL students and students who need greater accommodations and tech access to learn. 
  • with regard to communication, I want to think strategically about this, and combine this thinking with the work I do with curriculum development and planning. 
There's always room for betterment, and how we get there is a good challenge for all of us to think about regularly on our own and with others. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Every Day is Filled with Unexpected Events

Both the upside and downside of school is that our days are filled with unexpected events. Today was no different. Typically those unexpected events open new doors of important effort and endeavor.

Expectedly students mostly followed tech menus in the morning; and unexpectedly there were a few switches in staffing due to teachers who could not be with us today.

Expectedly students had recess; and unexpectedly problems arose that need to be addressed with new protocols, playground organization, and student coaching.

Expectedly students arrived at math class, and unexpectedly an approach of utilizing multiple small groups worked really well for the most part. With a little finesse, I can tell this will be an approach that serves this learning group well.

Expectedly we met to determine parameters, teachers, and spaces for RTI; and unexpectedly we noted a challenge with numbers in relation to teachers available to service students' needs during that time.

Expectedly we met with our kindergarten buddies; and unexpectedly the activity planned was a bit of more of a challenge for the kindergartners than expected.

Our days as educators are filled with multiple problems to solve--problems of living and learning, some expected and some unexpected. That's part of the life of a teacher, and for the most part if we can find the promise in the problem, we are well directed.

Friday Focus: Math, Portfolios, and Buddies

After attending a professional event yesterday morning, I'm delighted to see all of my math students again today.

We'll review a bit of past study then dive into the connections between the base-ten place value system and U.S. currency. I hope this will spark some good connection making for eager fifth graders. I'm also offering a morning of extra help which I find to be an opportunity to teach well and support students who are motivated enough to come in for extra help.

I could not offer this extra help with the old model of one-teacher-one-classroom as the prep work was overwhelming, but now with the shared model, I have a bit more time and energy so I'm able to offer this extra time now and then.

The learners are becoming acclimated to the fifth grade expectations, routines, and protocols, so good teaching is now starting in earnest. It takes time to prep the learning/teaching team for a deep year of learning, and that prep has occurred.

Today will find us also looking over portfolios, completing self assessments, thinking/talking about character, and playing a "find the sums" game with our kindergarten buddies. It will be a good day!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Week's End Musing - October 12th

The short week is coming to a close, and it's been a busy few days.

Next week finds me meeting with 20+ families to discuss students' academic program and goals.

I look forward to the meetings. Many students will lead their own meetings with their showcase portfolios that demonstrate their good work, effort, and future goals.

In addition to the conferences, students will continue their place value study with paper/pencil activities and technology. My small reading group will continue to read the terrific book, Swindle and the class as a whole will continue our social competency efforts and start a focus on the attributes of character. Onward.

Goal Setting with Young Children

This week students are working on their showcase portfolios. The portfolios include a number of reflections, study samples, and stats.

Yesterday I reviewed ed stats with students. The ed stats included reading words per minute, reading accuracy, reading comprehension test scores, math test scores, and math facts scores. We used the stats, in part, to choose goals for learning. The main goals included the following:

  • Better reading fluency by reading and using fluency tools like One Minute Reader (OMR)
  • Better reading comprehension by reading and then talking about or writing about that reading regularly.
  • Better writing by writing every day.
  • Better math facts by studying.
  • Learn math standards knowledge by attending to daily lessons and learning options.
  • Enrich math knowledge by completing one or more of a large list of enrichment options.
  • Better social-emotional learning by following directions.
  • Better social-emotional learning by collaborating with others.
  • Better social-emotional learning by developing character (a lifelong challenge)
When students and I sit down with family members we'll look over the showcase portfolios and revisit the goals. We may make goals more specific or add another goal that's a better fit. I'll likely make a chart of all the goals and hang it up in the classroom so we can keep the goals front and center while teaching and learning. 

We'll deepen, broaden, and better personalize goals in the days to come. In the meantime, if you have ideas for me, let me know.

Good Process: Learning with the Professional Team

Today I'll have an opportunity to learn with the professional team. The team represents years of dedicated learning/teaching experience, study, and investment.

As a team member, I'm effusive. As a developer of ideas and one who regularly reflects on my practice, ideas and response come quickly, yet if I have too much to say, there isn't room for other's wise, deep, and insightful comments and experience.

It's time to step back and hear these dedicated colleagues. Time to honor their ideas. I've always felt this way, but I've not stepped back and listened as much as I'd like to do now.

Often when it comes to learning with the professional team, good, modern process is missing. It's no one's fault, but instead, the fault of the fact that our processes for idea share and teamwork have not kept up with the changes in technology, learning, and research--in many cases we're using outdated processes for learning with modern day learning goals and strategies.

Hosting conversations is one modern process that's yet to catch on, but it is a powerful process that I feel will catch on in time. Crowdsharing is another powerful process, one that's often used and when used well can be a very powerful way of creating inclusive, transparent share and idea development. I was recently reminded of this as I added my idea to OpenIdeo's crowdshare challenge related to gratitude. All of these new processes, when used well, elevate the way we contribute, develop, critique, choose, and implement great ideas and solutions.

As I learn with the team today, I'll think a lot about process. I'll make the most of my time as I listen to the many ideas of others and determine ways to translate those ideas into my daily teaching/learning practice with students.

What processes of idea share, development, critique, implementation, and assessment are successfully utilized in the organizations you lead and work for/in? Why does process matter? How can we modernize our processes for better effect? These are great questions for those interested in elevating the work and service they do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Moving Ahead: Portfolios, Reading, Science, and Place Value

Tomorrow will begin with a systemwide grade-level training related to science standards and expectations. Then upon arrival back at school, we'll have our first RTI meetings. After that we'll return to our portfolio prep which began in earnest today.

I shared students' data stats today and had the chance to talk to some about goal setting. I'll continue that discussion tomorrow and give students an opportunity to evaluate their own efforts for the year to date.

I'll offer another 8am study morning on Friday to help those who need some extra help with the math homework and those who simply want the luxury of coming to school early to study with friends. Next week will be a very busy week with quite a number of family-student-teacher meetings. Onward.

The Good Teacher 2017

Good teachers can be described in many different ways. The qualities of "good" will look different depending upon where you are in your career and where you are headed. This is one of the reasons why I'm such a fan of collaborative teaching teams. Typically great teams have teachers who represent many different sets of attributes and goals, thus creating a dynamic team who is able to support, critique, and develop each others' practice. I'm fortunate to work with a team like that.

For me, at this point in my career, the good teacher attributes which are most important include the following:

Positive Demeanor
When you've been teaching as long as I have (32 years!), it's easy to quickly accept or dismiss ideas. I've seen a lot, and I often know what will work and what won't. While this is true, I don't want this to contribute to a closed mind or negativity. I want to stay open minded to new ideas and display a positive demeanor each day in school. The same-old-same-old struggles with too much red tape, supports that look good on paper, but not in reality, and lack of voice and choice can get a teacher down, but I want to speak up with care and concern when those events happen and then focus in on what I can do rather than what I can't do.

For those of us who have taught as long as I have, the joy of the job includes a love of shared learning and the interest in helping young children develop with happiness and success. I am passionate about learning on my own and with children. I enjoy the synergy that occurs in classroom where dynamic learning occurs. I also truly enjoy helping students to feel good about themselves, create worthy goals, and work towards those goals. I know that positive early life experiences can result in better lives for those children and others in their lives. I am both proud and enthusiastic about this aspect of teaching, an aspect that takes priority at this point in my career.

I work with a dynamic collaborative grade-level team. More than ever at this point in my career, I realize that good teaching is not a solo sport, but instead a team activity. I truly enjoy working with the team of grade-level educators, families, and students to teach well. I enjoy the learning that comes from this teamwork as well as the elevated results we gain as a team.

Creativity, Technology, and Research
I also enjoy the fact that education is constantly evolving. Today's ready access to research and technology has allowed me to be more creative with the ways I help students learn. This too makes the job enjoyable and successful.

Years ago, one aspect of the professional menu that took greater priority was my work outside of the school system. While I still work on teams outside of the school system, my focus now is much more directed to the grade-level team that I work with. I am very interested in the details of teaching well, and think of our grade-level team as a learning lab for best possible learning/teaching efforts. I like this microscopic approach at this stage in my career and believe it's a good match for my personality, abilities, personal obligations, and drive. Also years ago I was very busy navigating life with young children and teaching too. As all teacher-mothers know, that's a mighty task. As a mom of teens and young adults, I have the time to dig into the details of the job in new and interesting ways. It's less about fitting it all in, and more about deepening my teaching/learning approach.

What does it mean to be a good teacher from your vantage point now? What events and activities take priority with your professional work? How are you able to bring both your goals and your expertise to a dynamic teaching/learning team? These are all good questions to consider as you move forward with your teaching/learning practice. 

Metacognate! The Day Ahead - October 2017

Image Reference
Today's overall emphasis will be to metacognate.

First students who have self-chosen to get a bit of extra help will meet in the classroom at 8am to work on math homework.

Next the team will meet in Open Circle with the guidance counselor to talk about what it means to be new and how to best welcome a new student. It just happens that we'll welcome a new student to our classroom today too.

After recess, we'll watch a short National Geographic video about the power of metacognition when it comes to learning. We'll talk about the film a bit, and then students will follow an online learning menu as they complete a number of targeted reflections and activities to prepare their showcase portfolios for student-family-teacher conferences.

As students work, I'll talk to individual students about their overall performance, learning stats, and goals. Each child will identify a reading/writing, math, and social competency goal based on interests, reading/math stats, and what they feel is most important.

In an ideal process, I would use a good week to complete this effort, but for some reason this year feels a bit squished. I think that the addition of tight pacing guides and extensive new curriculum expectations are creating a bit of stress since the expectations, in some ways, seem unrealistic and not student-friendly. I'm thinking about that, and what I can do, and in the meantime, I'll do what I can to meet the expectations set and still teach in reasonable, child-friendly ways. Onward.

Apt Differentiation

Every educator knows that one-size-fits-all learning almost never works. Children bring to us a myriad of strengths and needs, and it's our job to understand that and differentiate the learning to teach well.

The challenge with differentiation is to both tailor learning to a child's needs and strengths while also making sure that the expectations for all students remain high.

Fortunately in my setting I have multiple tools and substantial staffing to make differentiation work. The challenge is finding the time to plan for all that differentiation and collaboration with teaching assistants, specialists, and others.

So now that I am beginning to get a good sense of students, differentiation efforts are beginning in earnest. What will I do?

First, a team of teachers will meet today to talk about differentiation related to social-emotional learning. What works for some with regard to building stamina, perseverance, positive self talk, responsibility, and doing the right thing doesn't work for others. As a team we'll think about how to foster optimal teamwork and following directions for all students today with differentiation.

Also I will work with the special educator to differentiate math learning materials so that those materials are differentiated for students current skill levels, visual/writing needs, and interest. We'll strategically work with online tools too. In that regard, I'll work with my grade-level colleagues to monitor and assign online practice tools with differentiation to meet and develop students' skills.

Further differentiation will involve teaching assistants. During math core time, we'll work together to make small groups for targeted learning, and I'll offer some extra time to help students who need help with the homework. This morning will be our first "morning masters" morning--a time when students may come into school early for extra help.

To differentiate well has a puzzle like quality--you're always thinking about who a learner is and how to best meet his/her learning needs and strengths. When done well, it is very satisfying for both learner and teacher. Sometimes too-tight controls, tech restrictions, less access to materials, dearth of support, and not enough planning/prep time can stymie educators' ability to differentiation. At present, most of those situations are not an issue for me, so I have a lot to work with. This sensitive and personalized part of the job is one of my favorite goals of good teaching and learning.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Establishing Positive Routines

A big focus of the learning right now is establishing positive study and learning routines. For every group, that turns out to be a somewhat difference process depending on the overall student make-up. Routines don't just happen overnight, but instead take significant practice in order to embed the favorable practices into a child's day.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Soldier Son

It's true that in short time, I may have a son who is a soldier.

I am both proud and afraid.

I do not value war of any kind, yet I know I would be the first to protect those I love.

This reality is one reason why I fear Trump so much. His speech, acts, tweets, and demeanor send the message that he cares only for himself, his money, and a few family members and friends. He doesn't care about my soldier son and would be willing to send him to war to feed his ego and prove his campaign promises. I agree with those who say that for Trump, the Presidency is a game or reality show.

Trump appears to believe in survival of the fittest. He's not one who cares about community, social values, taking care of one another, and building a loving and peaceful society. For him, it's about the game, the money, the winning, and ego.

So what about my soldier son?

Should I dissuade him from this service? My gut instinct says no since I know that he wants to understand our military and serve his country. He is an honest and true American who believes in the freedoms, rights, and privileges this country holds dear.

What is a mother to do in the face of a President who has little care for the rights, freedom, and safety of the American people, a President who is willing to use social media to incite global fraction and war. This is ever so troubling.

For now, until I know better, I'll continue to write, read, research, and advocate for what is right and good. I believe that we can work towards global harmony, peace, and good life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all global citizens.

We live short lives. We are less than seconds in time. What more can we do but to live well and contribute to good living for others. That is a life well lived. The greed, ego, disrespect, and danger that some promote is so ignorant in the face of the reality of our short lives and our dependence on one another. Do you agree?

Society's Scapegoats

I want society to think about the way that they scapegoat people--the public shaming that occurs is problematic, but not necessarily negative. I'm on the fence about this.

When people are caught after years of wrongdoing, I find myself both angry and empathetic. The empathy comes from a part of me that wonders if the people really knew that what they did was wrong. Did they get swept along with a popular culture without thought or consideration of the dire consequences and impact their acts had? Should they be punished for what they did then with what we know now?

Yet, on the other hand, in some of these situations, I wonder how they could have fooled themselves into thinking that indignant and, at times, the inhuman ways they acted could ever have been right or good. Does one individual ever have the right to hurt, demean, disrespect, or degrade another?

No one would ever want to be the scapegoat for an act that was once acceptable, but now is seen to be detrimental or evil. Scapegoating is a painful and hurtful process.

I'm thinking of this as society becomes better and we understand the acts of the past that were painful, debilitating, and altogether wrong, and incriminate those who took it upon themselves to forward those acts.  What do you think?

Objectification of Women

The objectification of women has been a long held practice all over the world. Older women like me hardly recognize it since it was a full part of our upbringing. It was common speak to objectify women.

I remember comments made to me from the earliest age that clearly sent the message that what was important about me had to do with my physicality and little else. It was a painful and hurtful reality, yet a reality generally accepted throughout the culture.

I remember that a wiser friend who was older than me and better educated a long time ago tried to make me see the objectification that was happening in a place of employment. I was worried I would hurt feelings or lose my job, so I ignored her wisdom. She quit the job.

I wonder about the impact of this objectification and how it continues today. I remember walking to the dining hall in college and passing college men who held signs with numbers on them rating us. It was hurtful.

Yet I find myself also somewhat empathetic to men who grew up in that culture and didn't learn better, but are paying the price for their discriminatory and sexualized speak today. Do they know how hurtful that is? Do they realize how wrong what they say is? Most women, I'm sure, would say that to feel this way is to be way too kind.

I'm proud of the women who are speaking up and standing up to the objectification and harassment they faced long ago and still today. They are paving a better road ahead for men and women, and the positive relationships we can enjoy as friends and more.

As a teacher of young girls and boys, I want to be clear that all children deserve respect, and all children deserve to be treated as the wonderful unique people that they are. Instead of prejudice and name calling, it's our aim to get to know one another and value each others similarities and differences. I'm happy to see sexual objectification diminish in our society. I honor those who are fighting this cause.

Four Day Week in October 2017

It was great to have a three-day weekend to catch up on both personal and professional items. Now it's time to think seriously about the four-day school week ahead. What's on the Agenda?

Place Value Unit: Writing and Comparing Numbers
Student will learn about and practice writing and comparing base-ten numbers in multiple ways utilizing both online and offline exercises.

Symphony Math Practice
Students will use the online visual math software to practice and learn math at their level.

Facts Practice
Students will continue to practice math facts in multiple ways throughout the week as they ready for the Friday quiz.

Reading RTI
Prepping materials for my small reading RTI group and prepping the whole class for the reading expectations during that time.

Showcase Portfolio Preparation
Students will complete reflections, cover sheets, and other evaluation/report materials for their showcase portfolio in preparation for next week's student-teacher-family conference.

Updating Math Tech Learning Menus 
I'll update these menus daily to support student learning efforts and expectations.

Professional Learning
Fifth grade teachers will meet to learn about new and existing STE expectations. I will also spend time reviewing our updated contract. I also have to read through the new science materials and prep upcoming lessons.

Administrative Work
There's a lot of administrative work to complete including the following:

  • Completing contracts and paperwork for upcoming field studies and special events
  • Preparation of receipts and forms for reimbursements.
  • Collection and reminders related to missing student forms
  • Re-arrangement of student organization space with new organization materials
  • Updating TenMarks assignments for all fifth grades
  • Completing personal, medical, and professional day forms for approval and reimbursement
  • Completion of field trip information/permission slip
  • Weekly newsletter writing/distribution

When Teacher Voice and Choice is Suffocated

I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but I like to do a good job and this weekend I invested approximately 30 or so hours into my practice to teach children well. I don't mind investing the time as I am really working hard to meet expectations and also implement new research I read about and know is worthwhile when it comes to promoting a students-first, engaging, and successful teaching/learning program.

Teachers everywhere give considerable extra time and attention to their craft. We joined the profession primarily so that we can do well by children.

What's often heartbreaking to teachers like me is that our investment is not noticed or valued by those that lead us. Many of our leaders would rather we just follow the script than teach or learn, yet our state evaluation systems encourage us to learn, design good units, and teach to children in engaging ways. This contradiction of expectation puts educators who truly care in a tough place and makes us feel like to be a robotic teacher who simply does as he/she is told is more valued than to be an invested professional who applies research, experience, reflection and good thought to his/her craft.

To remain in our positions, we have to do as we're told by countless administrators, coaches, and other leaders. That's part of the agreement we sign when we sign up to teach. We have to continually weather the storms of contradiction when we're told to do one thing, but our research, experience, and expertise tells us to do another. When our voices and choices are snuffed out, it's disconcerting, but it's often the challenge we face as we work to teach well. Onward.

Managing the Complexity of School Days

There is a complexity to school days that requires good management.

As I think of that complexity, I find the following events to be most challenging.

Hallway Questions and Conferences
Due to the complexity of the day, teachers are often asked important questions during hallway transitions. Typically these transitions are short and there's a purpose to a teacher's direction, hence there's rarely time to give the questions or impromptu conversations the time and thought they deserve. Hence, as much as possible, the response to these events should be, "I want to give your question/conversation the thought it deserves, so let's make time for this when we have a few minutes."

Last Minute Requests and Responses
Since educators are typically responsible for large groups of students, it takes time to prepare for quality learning experiences. Hence there's rarely the time to respond to last minute requests or to have to wait for last minute responses. As much as possible, it is advantageous to use lead time with both responses and requests as that acknowledges the necessary time educators need to prepare for quality teaching and learning.

Timely, Inclusive Goal Setting
At times, educators learn of goals well after the year has started and plans have been made. This is challenging for educators who rely on early year routine-setting and scheduling to support the year's teaching/learning goals. Also, at times, educators may receive goals that they have had no say in which can be disconcerting particularly if the goals don't match an educator's perspective, research, or experience with regard to what students, schools or systems need. Hence, in the best of circumstances, educators should be included in the goal setting process, and those goals are made prior to the start of the school year.

Administrative Support
Educators at some levels have significant administrative support while educators at other levels have little to no administrative support. Administrative support could include support with copying materials, making phone calls, completing purchasing orders, organizing field studies, and managing other paperwork. This is often an inequity that occurs in school systems, and one that needs to be analyzed since all educators today need some administrative support in order to meet the extensive expectations for this kind of work with very little time in the day to complete administrative tasks.

While many may think it's crazy, it is true that educators often can't use a restroom due to the fact that they are alone with large groups of students for extended periods of time. It's important to analyze your schedule well and see where you can get that short break in the day by asking a neighbor teacher or assistant to watch your class on a regular basis during those long mornings or afternoons with no break.

It's also important that educators take the time they need to have a healthy lunch and planning period during the day. When educators give up their time for lunch or planning, they dilute their ability to do their best possible work. If the job expectations are humane and reasonable, it's probably that the teaching will also be humane and reasonable.

Reasonable Expectations
It's also important for educators to speak up as a group when the expectations are unreasonable. For example sometimes new curriculum is added, but nothing is taken away. Hence an educator may be responsible for teaching that equals 900 hours in a year only has 600 hours with students. At times this may happen because the expectations look good on paper, yet that should not be a factor if the truth is that there isn't the time in the schedule to do the work well. There will always be a bit of give with this topic, but a "give" of 300 hours becomes undue and impossible stress on educators and students who are working diligently to meet the expectations set.

Educators need to bring to school positive, optimistic, can-do demeanor and effort. It's important that we're focused on doing the good work possible with a caring, empathetic approach to all students and colleagues. To be able to have that positive demeanor, it's important that we make sure that our expectations are realistic and doable--that will help us to build the dynamic, positive, and student-centered teaching/learning cultures we all value.

Urgency and Response

Teachers typically feel an urgency to be prepared and to do a good job by every student. Sometimes those distanced from the classroom may not feel the same urgency since they are not working with 25 students a day. They may not realize the time it takes to prepare 25 sets of materials for the learners and the time it takes to respond to and analyze the responses of 25 students. They may forget the prep time it takes to prepare for parent conferences and to create substitute materials when a teacher is attending a professional development event. The distance between a professional and the work of teaching and learning is an important consideration when we think about school systems and decision making processes. In my opinion, it's best that most people in schools have direct responsibility for students so that the decisions made, responses, and sense of urgency connects well to the work we do. Do you agree?

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Teach Well: Still Learning After 32 Years

This is my 32nd year of classroom teaching, and I'm still learning.

Recently as I introduced students to the base-ten place value system, I used the analogy of a cardiac surgeon. I mentioned that the surgeon needs to understand the circulatory (heart) system well to be able to fix hearts. I also mentioned that to understand the system, the surgeon has to know all the parts specifically and how those parts work together. The same is true for mathematicians with the base-ten place value system, we have to understand the parts and how those parts work together.

Like that cardiac surgeon, a teacher has to understand well the many parts that make up an optimal education for a child, and he/she also has to stay up to date on the latest research related to those parts and their interactions. Education, like medicine, is constantly evolving as research allows us to understand more and better about how children learn.

Recent research and technology has increased our opportunities to teach well. For example, computers make learning so much more accessible to so many more learners. Rather than a narrow paper/pencil landscape, learning today is blended utilizing multiple hands-on, paper/pencil, and digital tools. Learning how to access and use those tools in meaningful ways to support learners is an essential learning curve for educators today, one I embrace with enthusiasm.

Cognitive research and brain science opens the door to education opportunity. We know today that teaching in brain-friendly ways leads to better learning. We know that pictures translate information 60,000 times faster than text which prompts us to turn complex concepts into pictures or sight-bites that translate the complex concept into diagrams that help students understand the concept with greater ease. We also know that people learn better when happy and comfortable. Some stress is good with regard to learning, but not too much stress, and collaborative conversation and active hands-on experiences are great teachers, so much better than hours of passive listening. Further, all that doodling many of us did while learning is in fact a good learning strategy now known as sketch notes which maximizes the eye-hand-mind connection and its relation to optimal learning.

Social Media has created opportunities to learn all the time via multiple experts online. Of course you have to be social media savvy to use these tools well, but just think I can reach out to experts in almost any field via Twitter to ask a question or receive an important link. It's amazing.

Greater research related to effective leadership and collaboration is also making education better and more accessible. Old time one-teacher-one-classroom models are being replaced by greater collaboration and collective models of teaching and learning. These models are taking away the isolation and competition factors we often faced in school and maximizing our potential through numerous collaborative efforts. Research about effective collaboration such as the hosting conversation research as well as research about optimal performance and distributed leadership are also lifting the potential of learning and teaching.

I'm fortunate to work in a system that is well funded and working to openly look at, and embrace, new processes for betterment. The educators in my system have voice and all members of the broad family-student-educator-administrator-community member team are readily reading and looking for ways to support optimal schools. Of course many of us see more ways to improve and change our system, and that tension always exists since we are an always evolving system.

Other systems are less dynamic and still subscribe to old factory models of work and development. Hopefully the state educational system will begin to move those systems ahead with greater distributed leadership model expectations and efforts to heighten the voice and choice of all stakeholders, not just a few leaders.

So after 32 years, I'm more engaged than ever in the profession. That's not to say I don't have my challenging and discouraging days, but overall I see so much promise for the profession if we stick together and advocate for what we know is right and good which includes substantial support for education of all students, research/application of good ideas, infusion of deep/meaningful/uplifting technologies, and respect for all of our students, families, educators, and administrators. Onward.

Looking Specifically at MA Education Criteria

I reviewed the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's new draft rubric for the evaluation system. I combined a number of points and highlighted the most important criteria with respect to developing my teaching/learning practice. I will specifically revisit the rubric once again as I prepare for the November 4th MTA's New Teacher Conference "Reflect for Success" presentation. During that presentation, new teachers will have the opportunity to unpack the rubric with a large number of reflection strategies as one way to reflect on and develop their teaching/learning professional practice.

In the meantime, after I determined the main criteria that relates to my teaching/learning goals, I wrote what we are doing and will continue to do to meet these evaluation goals--goals I value. In the future, I want to return to this list so that when I am reflecting on, developing, and sharing teaching/learning efforts, I am focused on the criteria and language below. I bolded areas that I want to pay particular attention to in the days ahead.

Unit Design and Implementation

Model optimal learning and teach well with the following attributes
Prior to each unit of study, I review standards, past practice, research and materials related to the unit of study. I then organize all the materials including standards, vocabulary, learning activities, and assessments online. As I do this, I'll make sure to utilize the attributes from the rubric noted below:
  • subject matter knowledge (review and research the material to teach)
  • student engagement (think about who your students are and what interests/attracts them)
  • learning experience that enable students to acquire, synthesize, and apply knowledge (introduce the acquire, synthesize, and apply cycle to students and use in every discipline)
  • subject-specific skills (take the time to teach and practice these skills)
  • vocabulary (use multiple ways to teach/review/apply vocabulary)
  • make and assess evidence-based claims and arguments (provide opportunities for academic debate, presentation, questioning and response)
Know students' developmental stage
Last year a colleague purchased developmental check-lists for each grade level. I'll reference that check-list as I plan the following efforts:
  • differentiate and enrich learning in age-appropriate ways
  • provide opportunities for student to problem-solve, make responsible decisions, and progress towards intended outcomes. Regularly ask the following questions:
    • How will you solve that problem?
    • Is this a responsible decision? or How can you make a responsible decision here?
    • What is your goal or intended outcome? How will you progress towards your intended outcome?
Design standards-based units
Again as I focus on unit design, I'll forward the following efforts:
  • well-structured lessons, generally use 5-10 minute thought-provoking introduction, engaging activity, clean-up, reflect
  • challenging and measurable outcomes. Engage students with the question, "How will you know when you've reached that goal, learned that material, moved ahead?"
  • focus on engagement, pacing, sequence, resources, grouping, purposeful questioning, strategic use of technology, digital media, authentic contexts, and standards-based efforts. Essentially choreograph blended lessons that result in optimal meaningful, engaging learning. 

Assess regularly using a variety of informal and formal assessments
I will continue to use a variety of assessments in the following ways. I want to think with my team about how we strengthen the feedback loops related to these assessments.
  • determine progress toward intended outcomes. Be explicit about intended outcomes, and work with students to determining learning paths to those outcomes. 
  • uses findings to adjust practice and make instructional decisions in real-time
  • identify/implement appropriate modification, differentiation and enhancements
  • use assessments as a focus of regular team data and assessment meetings
  • support regular feedback loops with students and families to support constructive conversation about student performance, progress, and improvement.
Image Reference
Promote expectations for quality learning
Primarily through the use of unit teaching and  showcase portfolio work, we will forward the following efforts:
  • encourage and promote optimal work, perseverance, effort. Demonstrate the value of these criteria through stories, statistics, examples. 
  • promote high expectations. Be explicit--show students what high-level learning looks and sounds like. 
  • share models of high-quality work with students, be explicit about expectations
  • use inclusive practices such as tiered supports, scaffolded instruction, structured opportunities for every child to meet or exceed state/system expectations and standards. Find ways to make every child successful.

Create an equitable, welcoming, safe, and productive learning environment
Preparation and execution of unit teaching/learning, daily activities, and special events I will promote the following with colleagues:
  • establish rituals, routines, and proactive responses to create a physically and intellectually safe learning environment. When incidents occur that obstruct this goal, be explicit in your language by saying, "When you_____, you make this environment intellectually or physically unsafe."
  • encourage students to take academic risks and play an active role on their own and with others to promote an optimal learning environment
  • reinforce students' relationship and communication skills by providing opportunities for students to learn in groups with diverse peers using meaningful academic discourse. Use words lists and anchor charts to support academic discourse. Show examples of academic discourse via video. Let students videotape their own academic conversations and then analyze their efforts. 
  • encourage students to seek out their peers as resources
  • consistently support all students to identify strengths, interests, and needs. Use showcase portfolio reflection sheets to support this goal. 
  • lead students to set and pursue learning goals, ask for help when needed, take academic risks, exercise self management, challenge themselves, monitor their own progress. Again make this a regular part of the showcase portfolio process. 
  • lead students to respect and affirm their own and others' differences
  • share, explore, and initiate dialogue about differences and similarities related to background, identity, language, strengths, and challenges
  • engage students in conversation and conflict resolution when needed related to conflicts or misunderstandings about differences. Stop and make the time for this. 
Engage families in the learning process
Parent conferences, progress reports, regular newsletters, classroom websites, classroom conversations/activities, and special events provide opportunities for the teaching team to do the following:
  • use a variety of strategies to encourage meaningful participation in the classroom or school community
  • communicate to families learning/behavioral expectations
  • update families on curriculum and successful learning strategies throughout the year
  • consistently seek feedback from families and utilize that to revise, enrich, and develop teaching/learning programs.
  • understand and appreciate different families' home language, culture, and values. Find ways to bring families together in ways that support student learning in optimal ways. 
Daily reading and writing support these efforts. With colleagues, I want to work more to design a way to meaningfully measure impact of the many efforts we engage in. 
  • regularly reflect on the effectiveness of lessons, units, student interactions on your own and with colleagues, utilize the outcome of that reflection to better teaching/learning
  • propose and monitor measurable goals that elevate student/educator teaching/learning practices
Professional Learning
Regular research, reading, study, collegial meetings support the following activities:
  • seek out and apply ideas for improvement to build expertise, improve student learning, promote better leadership, and differentiate
  • co-lead peer collaboration to develop units, well-structured lessons, and proactive interventions. 
  • contribute relevant ideas and expertise to grade-level, school, and system school improvement
  • develop strategies and actions alone and with colleagues to contribute to the productive behavior of all students at the school. 

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Pacing the Place Value Unit

Pacing always creates tension in schools since pacing guides assume most students learn at the same rate and come to us with similar foundations. Pacing guides also forget that students are absent, face unexpected challenges, and that school days often include special events.

So as I consider all of this, I am thinking about where we'll head next with the place value unit.

So far we've done the following, although some classes need a bit of catch-up with one or two lessons:
  • Learned about the history of digits, and what an amazing discovery the base-ten place value system is.
  • Discussed the concept and meaning of the idea of systems.
  • Learned to copy the place value booklet into Google docs for a ready at-home reference.
  • Applied the concept of system to place value with a detailed look at its parts.
  • Made precise models of the place value system with a primary focus on the parts, exponents, and a light focus on the "behavior" of the system.
  • Discussed the magnitude of powers of 10 by watching the Eames wonderful math model film. 
  • Introduced the world population clock, and used a timely statistic of the world population to model base-ten numeral form, expanded form, and expanded or scientific notation. 
So we've created a good context for learning more. Next we'll focus on the Math/Science Practices using the chart below and continue our study with the following activities:
  • Practice writing meaningful numbers related to units in other disciplines in base-ten numeral form, expanded form, and expanded notation.
  • Identifying the value of numbers in particular places on the base-ten place value system.
  • Looking at the "behavior" of the base-ten system with respect to the fact that as we move to the left numbers increase by X10 with each place value move, and as we move to the right, numbers decrease by /10 or X 1/10 with each place value move.
  • We'll use both money and the metric system as examples of place value system "behavior" and parts. 
  • We'll review and practice rounding numbers.
  • Students will study and use whole number exponents.
  • Students will practice study skills as they prepare for the unit assessment. 
Each time we begin a new focus, we'll use good process by identifying the overarching question, investigating, and explaining/applying what we learn. I look forward to deepening this list as we tackle each layer of the unit. Onward. 

Who Carries the Cognitive Load in Schools?

I quickly reviewed an article about cognitive load this week and learned that when students carry more of the load with regard to learning, they learn more. This shouldn't surprise any of us.

The challenge here is the depth with which we teach. At the current rate of teaching the standards in many American schools, we don't have time for depth, and without that time for depth, we can't allow students to carry that cognitive load, a carry that increases their academic muscles for good learning and application.

For example, I'm working on a deep unit of study right now. If taught well, the unit will provide students with a substantial and valuable foundation for future learning in multiple disciplines. However, I'm on a tight timeline with regard to expectations. It's way too tight in my opinion, and that's creating some worry.

As I read Emdin's book about culturally proficient teaching this summer, I found myself wanting to add a deep, project-based approach to this unit of study--an approach that would give students substantial cognitive load related to this unit resulting in deep learning as well as an opportunity for me to deeply understand my students. To do this deep study would take an additional 3-4 weeks and I believe those 3-4 weeks of deep study would result in depth that would carry over to all future units with increased investment, engagement, and success with math learning. I would like to be trusted to forward this work as my research and study directs me, yet I work with many and expected to follow the tight timeline.

I'm a fan of loose-tight parameters for study. I'm also a fan of team decision making since I believe that no one has all the answers. Further, I'm a proponent of deep study as I believe one of the issues with distaste of schools and learning in the USA is that our units are often too superficial thus not allowing teachers or students the depth possible. When you go deep, the love of learning is ignited, questions grow, and passion is born.

I'm thinking a lot about these questions. I welcome your insights and ideas.

Layers of Leadership and Teacher Voice

Can teacher voice be buried under too many layers of leadership?

For example in a distributive model where a team of teachers make decisions about the work they forward, teacher voice may be a top layer of leadership, however when teacher voice has to go through three or more layers of leadership, it's likely that his/her voice is lost or distorted by the time it makes it to the decision maker's table.

In the best of circumstances, perhaps many layers of leadership work as a refinement process where a request, decision, or idea becomes more and more refined along the way, but I suspect that typically when there are countless layers of leadership much of the initial message is lost in translation.

This is another reason why I am a big proponent of utilizing as much distributed leadership as possible when making decisions in schools. Time and time again, I have read about the importance of the voices of those on the front lines of any organization as they are the people who work with the organization's main focus--their voices matter. When too many layers of leadership exist, the words, ideas, and problems from the front line are often lost. Pink's book, Drive, exemplifies this as his focuses on the potential of autonomy, mastery, and purpose int he workplace.

I thought of this today as I advocated for an important need close to my students--it's a need I'm acutely aware of since I face this need every day and every minute that I teach. I know from my research and experience, that I have a good idea about how to make positive change in this regard, yet I have about four layers of leadership to work through to gain a response to my idea. This means I have to argue my idea with evidence, write letters of request, wait for the layers of leadership to meet and discuss the need, and then work with the response I get when I get it. This is a timely, and probably costly, process when the situation itself is not so deep or dire, but essentially a fairly easy idea for betterment, one my team could implement with minutes of decision making, and what I believe would be hours of betterment.

The synergy, process, roles, and layers of organizations are important considerations. We never want layers to be too many that stymie good ideas, process, and growth, yet we also don't want to exist without any layers of refinement or betterment. In every organization there will be a best equation for this. What will your organization's equation look like and how will that foster optimal performance and result?

Stay Positive, Make Time for Team Building

This morning I wrote to advocate for more time for a teaching unit since our team spent considerable time at the start of the year building team and setting the stage for successful learning. I'll go along with the decision made, but my research and experience tells me that if you skip the team building and contextual work at the start of the school year, then you never reach the depth and success possible. Most teachers subscribe to Ruth Charney's wise advice in Teaching Children to Care years ago which stated that the first six weeks of school should be a time to build a positive school culture.

While I thought about the request for an extension with regard to a unit's completion, and our ongoing effort to build a positive TeamFive culture, I rewatched the film we made at the start of the year, a film that highlights lots of smiles and positive team building activity:

As I watched the film, I found that it reawakened in me that desire to serve these wonderful students with so much potential well. To do my job well means to advocate for what they need and then to work carefully with my grade-level colleagues to meet those needs in a large variety of meaningful, engaging, and both collective and personal ways.

I imagine I'll find myself looking at this film every so often throughout the year to bring me back to our essential purpose which is to provide our students with a wonderful year of academic, social, and emotional growth, happiness, and success. Onward.

Thinking about the Family-Student-Teacher Conference

I remember years ago when I missed the opportunity to meet my son's teachers and hear about the teaching program. That year for my son was not as good as the years when I attended the meeting and could then reference what I learned to support my son's learning throughout the year. So, with that in mind, I'll go the extra mile to try to make sure that I meet with every family and student in the weeks ahead to set the stage for a good year to come.

Family-Student-Educator(s) Conference Sign-Up
Our team generally opens up a Google document to allow families to sign up for a time that works for them. We generally offer early mornings and later afternoons to accommodate family schedules, and try to have all the conference in the same one-week period so we are talking about the same general curriculum efforts, assessments, and goals with all families. This one-week (or so) window also provides us with a good amount of information with which to discuss and develop our program to best meet the needs of all families and students.

Conference Preparation
Last year I felt that I didn't carve out enough preparation time to truly meet the expectations and potential of the conferences. Our team has talked about this and we have shifted some of the learning to better prepare. We've carved time from the schedule for student reflections, goal setting, and portfolio work. We've also made time in our personal schedules to meet the approximately 50 hours that conferences take--about one good hour of planning and prep with and without students, 20-30 minute (or more) meetings, and the approximately 30 minutes per students of follow-up work to respond to the meeting's efforts.

I also want to make this an opportunity to clean up the classroom, and prepare a useful space for parent meetings. Due to our new locked door routines in the school, we'll have to remind parents to come around to our back doors to be let in at times that occur outside of the school administrative staff's schedule.

The Conference 
We have invited students to attend the conference. When students attend, we'll ask the students to make the introductions between family members and teachers. We'll then have students introduce their year's learning to date with special attention to three-four portfolio pieces including their happiness survey, reflections, Selfie mini-poster, and goals. Then teachers will have a few minutes to review the child's learning stats such as early year math and reading assessments as well as observations. Family members will have time for questions, and finally we'll set a few goals together. I can imagine some of the the most common student goals will be include the following:
  • Reading more often on your own or with others to develop fluency.
  • Reading more often on your own and with others and discussing that reading to develop comprehension.
  • Getting to school on time, and following the morning routine to get a good start in the day.
  • Asking more questions when you don't understand or need more help.
  • Practicing math skills for a few minutes each day using specific study sites and tools.
  • Reaching for enrichment by trying out some of the bonus assignments.
  • Contributing to class culture by cleaning up at the end of the day and following established class protocols.
  •  Writing the teacher an email at night if you don't understand to build better understanding of expectations or to share your ideas more.
It may be that family members ask the teacher for a few minutes to talk without the child and we'll accommodate that as needed. I hope that every conference will result in one to two goals that family members, teachers, and students agree on.

Conference Follow-Up
I will have a notebook set up off line to jot down notes about each student, particularly notes about goals. I'll reference those notes as I plan the curriculum and work with my grade-level colleagues so that we keep the goals for each child upfront in our planning and communication. We'll also work during open circle with students to discuss how they might keep their primary goals upfront too, and how they can self-advocate and positively self-coach to lead themselves forward to meet their goals as well. 

There's a lot to do to make the conference period useful and successful, and in the days ahead, I'll work with students and colleagues to make this a reality as we know that when families, students, and educators work together as a team children are happier, learn more, and overall, gain greater success. Onward. 

Friday, October 06, 2017

Week's End: October 26, 2017

It's the end of the school week with a three-day weekend to come. As students left, a couple said, "It's the weekend already!" That was a sign of a good week to me.

Highlights included the solar ovens, math model making, read aloud, and buddies. The biggest challenge is fitting it all in, but clearly we can't so we have to prioritize.

Next week will find us dedicated to the place value unit, facts/skills math review, more read aloud, portfolio prep, additional professional learning, and the start of reading intervention groups. Professionally we'll mainly prep for upcoming conferences which take place throughout the following week. Onward.

Goal Setting: MA Evaluation System

I reviewed the Massachusetts' new draft rubric for the evaluation system. I was in agreement with the language changes, and want to match the new language to my goals for the year ahead as part of my self-assessment process. I find that this kind of reflective process sets the stage for good work in the year ahead. I'll also use this process as I work with new teachers at the MTA's New Teacher Conference on November 4th, a conference open to all new teachers (five or less years experience) who are members of the MTA. I wish that I had attended a conference like that when I was a new teacher as it would have quickly connected me to countless supportive people, organizations, and opportunities at the start of my professional career which would have been advantageous.

I've been thinking a lot about this chapter of my professional career, and what I would like to achieve at this time. Most of all, I am inspired to continue to improve my practice as it pertains to the young children I serve and lead. I want to help them learn as much as possible in positive, uplifting, and life-enriching ways. This continues to be a challenging, inspiring, and motivating goal for me. I also want to continue to build my ability to collaborate with colleagues as we build a positive, proactive, respectful and equitable professional culture of care, collaboration, leadership, and service. I find that the system I work in is a perfect laboratory for good education work and growth--we have what it takes to exemplify excellence when it comes to service to and education for children. This is an exciting place to be.

These goals and growth will profit from continued learning, reading, research, and study as well as the opportunity to move outside of the small school system where I teach to local and national conferences and online share, learning, and advocacy.

On this journey, I'll heed the idea of celebrating the small wins along the way and continue to reflect upon the journey as I move forward on my own and with the colleagues I honor and look to for inspiration, information, and support. Onward.