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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Family-Student-Educator Conferences: March 2017

Every year our team tries to develop our efforts related to family-student-educator conferences. We do a lot to prepare for these events as we believe it is very important to collaborate with students and family members to build a strong learning/teaching team and community. We know that when we work together, children do better and that's very important to us.

There are a number of philosophical underpinnings that I hold as we move into the conference week including the following:
  • Servant leadership: For the most part I utilize this management philosophy as I teach and work with families--I consider myself both a team member and "servant" to those I work with and for, and hope to meet their needs as I teach.
  • It Takes a Village: No one person or group can meet a child's every need--it takes the team of family members, educators, coaches, friends, and other important people in a child's life to spell success and support for that child.
  • Children are the masters of their learning journey--while family members, educators, and others support a child's optimal learning journey ultimately it is the child who leads and empowers that journey.
  • Knowing thyself leads to success--the more children understand who they are, how they learn, and what they are interested in and passionate about, the better they will learn and the happier and more successful they will be. 
  • Learning is not a straight diagonal, but instead learning is a bumpy road that is full of ups and downs as well as plateaus. 
  • Social Emotional Learning and Intelligence matters.
  • Good learning depends on holistic programs that emphasize goal setting, reflection, analysis, discussion/debate, quality learning experiences, positivity, growth mindset,
    adequate supports, cultural proficiency, confidence in one's self, the ability to advocate and ask questions, and commitment, dedication, and creativity by all stakeholders. 
  • Success today depends on students' ability to be lifelong learners who exhibit flexibility, metacognitive skills, and collaboration. 
Preparation is essential to quality conferences, and our team has chosen to have most of the conferences during the same week so that we are all talking about the same goals, efforts, and endeavor.  To prepare for the conferences, our team does the following:
  • Help students to complete showcase portfolios that include examples of signature learning efforts, learning data sheets, student reflections, goals, photographs, and passion pages.
  • Organize and print student data sheets that provides the data related to students' progress with foundation skills and grade-level standards (See example below).
  • Help students write a conference script to use as they lead the conference with family members. (In some cases students and families choose not to have the student attend, and in some cases students attend and lead the conference.)
  • Schedule the conferences well in advance by creating Google tables and allowing families to sign up for the time that fits their schedules best. 
  • Prepare the week's learning materials in advance to make time during the week for focus on the conferences. 
During the conferences it is important to be present and to be a good listener. More than ever, this is a chance to listen to students' and family members' questions and thoughts. We don't have to have all the answers at these conferences, and at times a family member or student question may be met with the response, "I have to think about that or I have to consult colleagues about that matter, and then I'll get back to you." What's most important as you listen is to recognize that children just like our teaching/learning programs and ourselves are always a work in progress--none of us have the monopoly on knowing all and we have to be open to discussion and debate when it comes to what works best for a child's progress. In general, I believe the following information is important to relay during a conference:
  • Every child is capable of learning and every child's learning path will be different.
  • When nurturing your children related to learning, I think a good ratio of emphases is 50% academic skills and foundation and 50% passion and interests.  Generally when children have a solid academic foundation as well as areas of deep interest, those children are more confident and happy. It is not one without the other, but both that are very important.
  • Making the time to talk to your children regularly and work with them to meet their needs is essential. A conversation about needs, wants, and desires is a good way to forward this kind of collaboration. 
  • Teaching/learning environments are not perfect, and sometimes what a family desires or a child needs is not part of the program. At times, during a conference, you may need to ask a family to help you advocate for more, better, or different to better serve a child or children. 
In general our teaching/learning program is strong--we have positive learning experiences, lots of special events, a students-first attitude, and great collaboration amongst the grade-level teaching learning team so we expect that the conferences will be positive and helpful with regard to further coaching each student forward in the months to come. 

What do you include in your family-student-educator conference efforts? What other ideas do you have for us as we enter this busy week when each homeroom teacher will meet with about 25 families? The more we build this effort, the better we will serve every child and that matters to us.

Example of student stat sheets. Note that students also receive a progress report that
identifies student success with specific standards twice a year. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Edcamp Boston Thoughts and Reflections

I attended #edcamp Boston at the beautiful Microsoft space in Burlington today. I was surrounded by dedicated educators who were brought together by the dedicated volunteer effort of a number of educators noted to the right. They don't have to spend their free time putting an event like this together, but they do and that makes a positive difference for many. I am grateful to their time and talent.

As typical of edcamps I have a large number of takeaways that I want to explore, but as atypical, I left a bit discouraged today because good education can't just be a volunteer effort--there has to be the support of the greater community to uplift our schools to be dynamic places where students come together to learn and apply their learning in meaningful ways every day. The educators at today's event are doing an awesome job to uplift education for each and every student--it was amazing to hear about the efforts in place, but it's clear we need more support from taxes and governmental agencies to create an education system that is top-notch, the kind of education system where children learn in environments like the terrific Microsoft space, and the kind of education system where there is enough funding and enough people to put into place what we now know about optimal teaching and learning, the kind of teaching and learning that changes lives and builds great nations.

Schools today need good spaces, adequate staffing, time for professional learning, and better organizational/leadership systems so that educators have the autonomy, collaboration, and support that gives them the needed voice and choice to work with all stakeholders to serve children well. At this point in history, what is holding schools back is a lack of adequate funding and support. Educators are ready to apply all that they know and learn, but lack of good supports is slowing down the potential development.

So as I heard about so many terrific ways to support students, I wondered about how I would get the time and support to implement those ideas. Ideas that include the following:
  • A shift in science teaching from understanding scientific knowledge, facts, and ideas as intentional to probabilistic. 
  • Teaching that demonstrates greater understanding of and connection to cognitive research.
  • Deep understanding of cognitive dissonance, and application of that knowledge in order to build stronger teams and embed optimal change.
  • Greater use of assistive technology and one-to-one supports to help students gain essential skills in meaningful and useful ways.
  • Reading and applying the information of so many great books such as A More Beautiful Question and The Human Side of School Change.
  • Use of studio habits of mind to build better learning and application
  • Learning more about computational thinking via the use of SCRATCH with interdisciplinary application and as a storytelling tool.
I want schools to continue to develop in dynamic ways. There has been significant positive change where I teach, but there is definitely room for continued growth and development, and I believe that will come from greater teacher leadership, collaboration, and autonomy--it is essential that organizations continue to rethink roles, structure, and efforts so that we can best serve students as the world changes around us. There's a great deal of positive change happening in education and there is room for more. I believe most teachers are working around the clock to serve students well. Many like the organizers of this edcamp are devoting significant time to positive development. Now we need the greater community and governmental leaders to stand up to fund schools adequately so that we can serve every child well--this funding should be aimed at adding more skilled staff to all schools, improving school environments including both buildings and the land around the buildings, and providing adequate time and support for professional learning as well as the use of updated tools and teaching strategies.

As always I can see far more than I can do, but I recognize that getting better and doing more is a step-by-step endeavor. Onward. 

Building Program Strength and Delivery

Today as I attend Edcamp, I'll be thinking about the ways in which I can build program strength in the days to come. I will place my attention on the following efforts:

Creating the Classroom STEAM Lab
All the program updates and changes in the last many years have created yet another need to update the classroom. I recently wrote a grant to access the kinds of furniture and materials that will make a better collaborative learning space. That furniture and storage equipment would help a lot. There's also a need to re-sort and organize the materials in ways that are easily accessible to students and teachers. That will require more storage units--units I'll invest in as having good organization will make the program more student friendly. I also need containers to collect cardboard tubes, plastic bottles, lids, and good glasses jars to support our study to. Students LOVE science study and that is a good motivator for this effort.

Get Rid of Outdated Books and Materials
Program change also means that many materials in the room are now outdated, and its time to get rid of that.

Problem/Project Based Learning
I want to move towards more meaningful and beneficial project/problem based learning (PBL), learning that I can evaluate and learning that leads to the development of confidence, concept, skill, and knowledge. We have a number of project/problem based efforts in the program, but I think I can work to strengthen and deepen many of those PBL efforts.

Program Enrichment
This week we hosted a terrific Young Audiences Benjamin Franklin presentation--it was terrific and served as a reference for future learning in all areas of the curriculum.  We also attended In the Heights, a natural history tour with a Mayan culture focus, a Museum of Science exploration, and a space adventure at the McAuliffe Challenger Center. The Discovery Museum matter expert visited our school to present a hands-on states of matter presentation and our PTO has presented many cultural enrichment programs. Later in the year we will explore a local nature preserve, raise spade foot toads, and host visiting experts and mentors to lead our global change makers project. I want to work with colleagues to continue to develop the program so that it is memorable, inspiring, and enriching.

To do this work in the next few years requires that I continue to push my efforts in rather than out--I'm looking at the details as to how to improve what I can do as part of a dynamic grade level team to teach children well. At edcamp today I'll do a lot of listening as I hear colleagues from near and far discuss their extraordinary teaching/learning efforts as well their wonderful questions and interests in developing teaching/learning to well support children, their families, our communities and country.