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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Affirmation and Inspiration

Thanks Sir Ken Robinson.


School Goal? Simply Stated.

I'm wondering if the best school goal is growing the way we lead--lead each other and lead our students.  With Pink's book, Drive, as the foundation, how can we move all in learning communities toward autonomy, mastery and purpose?  What shifts does this involve?  How would an organization embrace this move?  Have you done this?  If so, what did you do?

Learning Math with Venn Diagrams

This is not a new lesson and I'm sure it is one you've used before, but it is a valuable lesson when it comes to strengthening multiplication facts and the notion of factors, factor pairs and the greatest common factor.  Later the venn diagrams can be used to compare a set of multiples for each number and the least common multiple too.  Research shows we should combine two opposing concepts at the same time, so you might want to alternate multiple diagrams and factor diagrams in the same packet.  Today our fact coaching teams will use this assignment to build skill (I simply made multiple copies and wrote some of the most difficult numbers under 100 for students to grasp with regard to factors.).  Feel free to use as well if it will be helpful.

Responsive Education Does Not Fit in a Box

In Making Learning Visible for Teachers, Hattie points to the need for teachers to adapt to meet students' learning needs in engaging ways.  He points out the importance of identifying success criteria and realistic learning goals then moving through a number of strategies with a child to bridge the gap between unknowing and knowing while adapting along the way.

This responsive education does not fit neatly into a box. I like the way that Melinda Sears describes learning "as a living, breathing organism that evolves for the benefit of the learner."


Many would like to fit learning into a box, a kit, an outline, a rule, or a system. In truth all of those constructs can serve as guides when it comes to optimal education, but cannot serve as tight, unyielding decisions. There needs to be room for movement and adaptability if we are going to teach children well. Unfortunately systems of old or factory model systems do not work this way.


The need for adapting systems is particularly true when it comes to technology.  Technology is ever changing, a moving target, and there is so much that we haven't figured out yet about technology with regard to serving children well.  We know that there are many new possibilities on the horizon to try and explore in an effort to boost students' engagement, confidence, skill, concept and knowledge.


So how do we move in this direction with strength, purpose and positivity. There are a number of strategies that can be implemented to move systems down this path.  I've written about these strategies before, and I'm writing about them again in an effort to make these ideals come to life in my school and schools everywhere to benefit students.


Meaningful, Purposeful, Responsive Endeavor: Whenever and however possible, we must reach for engagement when teaching children. As Hattie points out, research supports the fact that engagement  produces significant results when it comes to student investment and learning.  Hence, the projects and problems students engage in must be meaningful, purposeful and responsive.  


Adaptation: We must continue to try as many strategies and tools as we can to ease the gap between unknowing and knowing for children. We know that the "one size fits all" learning strategies of the past lead to frustration, depression and failure for many students.  Instead of trying to change children to adapt to the curriculum, we must adapt the curriculum to children's areas of competence, strength and accessibility as we help them to develop their learning tool kit and move towards greater flexibility and facility in all learning endeavor.


Collaboration: No one in education knows it all.  Vibrant, dynamic teams, conversation and collaboration will help to optimize and maximize our efforts with regard to student learning and engagement.  Structures such as PLCs (personal learning communities) can foster collaboration in schools if done well. Also a general attitude towards trust and respect with regard to the voices of all students, educators, staff, family members and community members will contribute to positive collaboration, which in turn benefits children because the best ideas and practice have a chance to rise to the top. 


Communication and Protocols: Adaptive education requires communication streams that are positive, flowing and guided by protocols.  Who communicates to who?  What are the protocols that lead action and innovation?  In this new tech age, what protocols streamline communication so that people are not overwhelmed, yet also invite regular, dynamic conversation with all members of the learning team.  It is a new age when it comes to communication, and it is essential that people know what to expect and agree on guiding protocols that enhances regular, positive, inclusive dialogue focused on students' success by all members of the learning community. 


Innovation: We know that continued creativity and innovation will help us to remake schools into positive, proactive learning communities that prepare students for a world that we can imagine in engaging ways.  What does innovation look like in your system?  What are the guiding protocols when it comes to sharing new ideas?  Are there idea systems in place that foster idea growth and trial at all levels of the organization?  Is this a fluid, flexible system that facilitates the movement of ideas from outside of schools into student learning in steady, smooth ways. 


Voice: In classrooms, research points to the fact that the "sage on the stage" strategy for teaching has merit in small doses, but mostly students should be the ones who are actively engaging in learning with discussion, activity and practice.  Similarly schools should make time for teacher voice too.  How often do educators in your system have a chance to share best practice, problem solve together and create in dynamic and diverse teams?  How do you foster a climate where conversation and debate are welcome?  Do you open the streams of communication so that plans, implementation, decisions, analysis and ideas for future growth are openly shared with all in the learning community as a way to foster investment, ownership and voice?  


The shift from factory model schools to learning communities is an optimal change that is within our reach.  Changing mindsets is the most important part of this shift.  We can begin to shift mindsets in these ways:

  • Voices Matter. All members of the learning community must realize that their voices matter. We can make that shift by instituting guiding protocols for communication amongst students, family members, educators, administrators and staff members as a way to foster respectful, dynamic exchange.
  • Guiding Protocols: A shift from tight rules to guiding principles and protocols will open the door for greater adaptation and flexibility, and move us to a focus on students first, and curriculum second. 
  • Make Mistakes, Take Risks. A willingness to make mistakes and take risks, and a respect for that action will send a green light to all members of a learning community that learning is not a fixed notion, and with greater risk taking and innovation we're more likely to meet students' ever-changing needs and interests with greater success. 
  • Create Vision. Making the time in advance to discuss big ideas, create vision and establish a guiding plan will help all members in the learning community to focus on similar areas of research, innovation and work.  It is essential that the vision setting includes all members of the community in some way as when vision is set without that engagement, investment lags.
  • Embrace Debate and Diversity.  We won't always agree and that will foster valuable conversation--rather than seeing a point of debate as a hinderance, find ways to use debate to refine our service to children by respecting all voices and making time for conversation. 
Lately I have read many articles about the changing structures of management and business. I've read Pink's book, Drive, and the research that supports success as it relates to autonomy, mastery and purpose.  I wonder if education systems would be wise to bring in consultants who are well versed in these new leadership strategies and efforts to guide leadership teams and staff  in school systems.  In turn those leadership teams and staff would foster autonomy, mastery and purpose, and that would foster a similar attitude and action when it comes to promoting student voice and choice.  

In many cases we already do a good job, but there is still tremendous room for growth and change. As I continue to repeat, this is a dynamic time of promise and possibility, let's seize the moment to grow, innovate and change to best serve students' needs and interests. 





Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Schools

It's time for schools to renew.

Get rid of the outdated factory model, and embrace a new organization.

Look to the strengths and energy of all and maximize potential.

With collaborative debate, discussion and thought focus on the mission: student learning.

Understand what it means to teach children well, and do all you can to meet that cause.

Create schedules that are not too rushed, too tight and leave time for thoughtful collaborative decision making and care.

Trust one another.

It's wonderful to work in schools. The mission is awesome.  The clients are inspirational, and the work kind.  Let's move towards this potential with strength.

Making Sense of New Paths

Okay, what do you think?

Educators have ideas for innovation.  How do you support them?

Administrators--what are your thoughts about this?  How do you deal with new ideas from the front line, and interest in innovation and change?  What are your innovation systems like?

I want creativity and change to be a natural process of discussion, response and trial.

Yet, can an administration entertain every new idea, innovation and spontaneous response?

It's a new age of ideas and innovation--life moves faster than before, and tech advances occur every day.  This presents a new situation for schools, a very different situation from the past.  It challenges roles as we know them, and work as we've always done it.

So I'm curious--how does change and innovation happen where you work?  How do you maintain peace, humanity and caring collaboration with students as the focus in this new age we live in.

As I've mentioned many times before, I think this is an age of great promise and possibility--we are able to serve children in better and more inclusive ways than in the past due to the wonderful tools at our finger tips.  How do we navigate this road with grace and intent?

I want to know.

Teacher Voice: Consider This


I'm an idealist.

Remember while I dream big, I know it takes time.

I just want ideas to be met with respect and care, and teachers to be included in the conversation that involves the work they do and the students they teach.

When you're in the midst of learning with children every day, there's no way that you are not going to dream about greater promise and possibility.  Ideas for better work are born in the constraints and challenges we face each day.

That's why teachers dream big and have big expectations for change too.

Thanks for your consideration with this in mind.

So Much Possibility: Join the Evolution

Possibility is everywhere today.

If systems streamline efforts, create evolving systems of creation, revision and innovation and communicate with positivity, we will see amazing growth and development in schools.

So much time is spent hindering development and standing in the way of innovation thus making change a multi-step approval process, rather than a streamlined path to better teaching.

So many that are in charge of systems and organizations are not involved in the amazing information streams and networks available today. Hence, when they make decisions they make them from the past tense, an old model and a system that's soon to be retired.

I don't know it all, but I know what's possible--amazing, transformative, student-centered learning and development, and every minute we spend trying to dam the flood of new ideas, tools and processes is a minute lost for moving towards serving children well.

Network.

Communicate.

Learn.

Get involved.

Be part of the transformation.

Engage in dynamic conversation.

Take down the turf walls, and welcome open idea exchange and collaboration.

Move forward--there's never been a time with this much promise and possibility, and we are so fortunate to be a part of this evolution.

21st Century Research and Writing for Young Children

Students are engaging in culture research and writing.
How do you research and write today?  In what ways has technology changed that process for you, and how do you transfer those changes to the way you facilitate student learning and practice with regard to research and writing?

My students are working on culture projects.  In part, the focus of the project is guided research and paragraph writing.

As a team, we've created a project website with a project outline, links and resources.  We are teaching students how to use the website to lead their project work.

We're also guiding students to find just right informational text, cull essential facts from that text and transfer that information into their own words into well organized paragraphs.  Later we'll teach students how to format the information in organized, beautiful ways on their tri-fold posters as a way of presenting the information, and teaching the audience about their topic at our upcoming grade-level Culture Celebration Museum Open House.

Yesterday, as I modeled the research process, students' thoughts and questions led the work. This is the process we're using.

1. First, use the links* on the website to access information for your informational paragraphs.  Use the paragraph template as a guide when working.  Find the facts** that you want to include.  When you find the facts you have the following choices:
  • Cut and paste facts into the top of your Google doc.
  • Write the facts in your own words on the paragraph planner.
  • Type the facts in your own words on the paragraph planner. 
  • Screenshot or drag free-to-use images into your Google doc too for later use.
2. Draft your paragraph by hand or on the computer. Don't worry too much about how it sounds at first, just get all the facts down.

3. Look over your paragraph and make sure you have a topic sentence, three or more detail sentences and a closing/summarizing sentence.  I always tell students that paragraphs were created to match the human brain as our brains aren't capable of taking in run-on information with depth and care, hence "little packages of information" or paragraphs with an introduction and closing serve our brains well for communication and learning.

4. Read the paragraph once again.  Clean the paragraphs up by correcting spelling, punctuation and capitalization.  Make sure you're varying your words, not using too many little words, and choosing words that are wonderful.  Read it again from the reader's point of view.  Will your reader understand, enjoy and learn from what you have written? Edit with a friend, then sign up for a teacher edit. 

5. Finally, print your paragraph and put it into your project folder for our poster creation days.

Is this how you foster research in this tech-era we're living in?  Do you have other methods that serve children better?  I'm excited by this new approach to research and writing as it eliminates a lot of the drudgery and gives both teachers and students time to focus on what really matters: critical thinking, reading and wonderful writing skill.


*If students can't find the information they're looking for on the provided links, we guide their search for more information via online websites and search engines.

**I taught students how to use the "define" search to find definitions and similes so that they can understand the research well and find new words to write the facts. 



Teaching Partial Product Multiplication

Partial Product Sample
I balked when I was first asked to teach partial product multiplication.  "This is crazy," I remarked, "It takes up so much space, and it's such a lengthy process."  But after teaching this method, I realized how terrific the process is both for solidification of place value understanding and mental math.

Partial product is part of the new standards for math too.  Yesterday, I dove right into teaching that algorithm, and as usual, once I got a feel for how students reacted to the process, I needed to go home and rethink the lessons to come for this group.  Every group of students reacts to teaching points in different ways, hence the need for responsive, tailored lessons.

Here's how the teaching will roll out over the next couple of weeks:

1. First, we'll review the area model for multiplication.

2. Next we'll review partial product with models and story problems.

3. After that students will practice a lot.  They'll have access to this great partial product film and the practice pages and more films on our class math website.

4. Later, for those that are ready, we'll introduce the traditional algorithm and perhaps others.  Surely in fifth grade the traditional algorithm will be taught.

Stepping students into multiplication via partial products builds facility and fluency for understanding and computation.


Partial Product Organizer for 2 X 2 Problems (Expected 4th Grade Standard)








Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What is Respect?

We have general notions of respect--be kind, be polite, listen. . .

But, in our workplaces and our specific jobs, what do you consider respect?  I bet if we discussed that topic, our answers would differ and the conversation would be both rewarding and community building (if led well).

As a classroom teacher, there are a number of actions that equal respect for me.  Most of the respectful behaviors I list have to do with acknowledging the specifics of my job.
  • First, remember that I'm a professional who is making the time to think, plan and respond with care.  Leading without integrating my voice feels like you don't deem my worth, training and experience as important.
  • Next, lead time is essential.  I'm balancing a lot of prep, research, response and implementation of instruction each day.  I often can't respond when notices are dropped on my desk or via email at the last minute--a couple weeks notice gives me time to plan and prepare.
  • Also, learning is more than an event.  To make learning meaningful, send out the reading material early so I can preview if I want to. Let me know what the event will entail so I can be prepared, and tell me the rationale too so I can see the meaningful connections. Of course, follow-up helps too.
  • Remember that I'm on task the large portion of the day. Rather than rushing in and out, or taking a coffee break, it would be awesome if someone offered to take one of my recess duties so I could transition from one lesson to the other, or reflect about a meeting for a few minutes.  Many without classroom responsibilities have that time, but classroom teachers often don't have any time in between lessons or meetings to synthesize, plan and summarize.
  • As a classroom teacher I've learned to multi-task well.  Hence knowing about change and initiatives early on gives me a chance to read up on it, prepare and question with time--whereas last minute notice creates stress since I don't have the time to transition with care.
  • When you "walk-through," follow up with a short note pointing to something positive and perhaps a question for future growth. Walk-throughs have a "military feel" and send a message of authority rather than team, so if you do it, you could soften the experience with a kind note. 
Those are a few actions that would feel like respect from my position as a classroom teacher.  I'm wondering what kinds of actions would feel like respect from your role in the school?  What feels like respect from the view point of coach, principal, team leader, curriculum director or teaching assistant?  

We often assume that we know what others expect, but if we aren't clear about our own expectations and needs, others may unknowingly react in ways that we find disrespectful. 

Have you ever made the time to discuss this with your team?  It would be a tender talk, and would have to be done with care, but it could be enlightening.  Or in a simpler way, perhaps the first time you begin working with someone, you could ask the question, "What are your expectations?  How do you prefer collaboration, communication and team?" 





Navigating the Rough Spots

The fact that I believe everything will turn out just great has somewhat halted my response to bumps in the road, detours and ruts.  Because I never expect they'll occur, I haven't figured out how to drive around the rugged crevices or gently through the jagged gaps. Ask my husband, I still barrel through those tire-wrenching cracks with a bang and sometimes a flat tire.

I'm simply getting too tired of using up that much energy, my own and others', for every rock and boulder in my path.

Hence, some new navigation rules.
  1. Everything doesn't turn out just great, at least not at the start.  So expect the bumps in the road.
  2. If possible, circumvent the rut, by being observant, noting the signs and making a plan.  Is that what they call diplomacy, negotiation or collaboration?  Must read a book about that--any titles?
  3. Then follow the plan, revise and head in the direction of the goal--see the bumps as sparks of enlightenment, refinement and fine tuning your direction.
That's a first step for re-stepping the rough spots.  Let me know if you have any other advice.


New Direction

When I am wide awake in the wee hours, I give in to it believing there's a reason to be awake. Generally I sleep like a baby.

The past few days have placed a detour in my path. I was ready to run down a path of new tech and teaching technique, but that was thwarted by a number of events.

Then tonight I woke up with a new direction.

You see, I need a direction, a question and a goal.  That brings me a thirst to keep learning, growing and moving forward. I enjoy that, and my students profit too.

So rather than argue the tech constraints anymore for the time being, I've decided to move in the direction of voice--developing student voice with speaking and writing.  

It's a positive path that shouldn't cause too much friction at the moment since it's standards based, embedded in upcoming testing and focused on essential skills. 

How will we travel this road in thoughtful, student-centered, engaging ways?

We'll begin tomorrow by starting our culture projects which include lots of reading and writing about cultures students have chosen to study, their own or cultures they're interested in. We'll craft paragraphs, titles, captions and even short stories perhaps.

After that we'll create a news spread telling about places you should visit--children always have great ideas for travel, adventure and fun, so stay tuned.

Then we'll create photo essays, advice essays and perhaps weave in some fiction too before we move to our yearly endangered species research projects.

I like that quote from the Sound of Music, "When the Lord closes a door, someone opens a window." Hence, a tech door has been closed for a bit, but the window to developing student voice with more intent and focus has been opened.  Onward!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Conflict and Control

Conflict and control are never easy.

What can smooth the path is understanding the rationale and believing in the merit of a decision.

Conflict and control bring change if you're open to it, but sometimes challenge you to stand up for your idea even if it is not welcome.

When I hit these rough patches in the road that challenge my ideals, vision and work, I think of those who battled much greater wars than me and made the courageous choice, those that stood up for freedom and human rights--the ones we read about and look to for strength, but that we don't always emulate.

Conflict and control are never easy, but it's essential to garner the truth that lies beneath the pain and suffering.

Conflict and control are lonely places to be.

The Longest Project: Digital Stories

Four to go--twenty-one completed.  Digital stories have been one of the longest projects, and one of the best!  Have you made a digital story?  If you have, you know it takes time, lots of time!

The learning is incredible as I've noted in the following posts:

21st Century Writing
Project Benefits

And, the stories are delightful. Take a look at the tales posted on our classroom blog.

Often, worthwhile learning takes time, and projects like this one with limitless potential for enrichment, embedded standards and voice are worth it.

Streams of Learning

For me learning is no longer an event, a course or instruction.  Instead it is a journey marked by a  kaleidoscope of colorful streams that weave together and spring apart.  Perhaps that is what is causing the confusion with those I work with.  Rather than creating streams of questions, knowledge points and inquiry topics, many save the learning for a single event, a package, a clearly defined list--that's what learning used to be like.

I like the streams better because a lot of learning happens on the go--the ideas sift and sort in one's mind intersecting with new information and observation.  Rather than learning it all at the "event," when streams are introduced it gives the learning a natural flow, a give and-take flavor, time to simmer--essentially preparing the guests for the feast, the event, and then of course there's the after-thoughts, the leftovers, plans for the next adventure.

Learning streams make learning a journey mirroring life--a series of shares, questions, struggles and epiphanies, a forward movement more like a dance, than a march.


Innovation Streams?

Innovation Streams?  Businesses call them Research and Development or Idea Management Systems?  What are those streams named in your organization and how do they flow?

When there aren't inclusive innovation streams, dams occur, and those dams stifle innovation, new ideas and change.

When there are known innovation streams in an organization, whispers in the hall and side conversations turn into shared ideas with potential for growth and better work.

What do your innovation streams look like?  How do they work?  If you don't have innovation streams, how would you develop them, and what would they replace, if anything? Does your organization value innovation and change, and are ideas welcome from all parts of the organization?  Research has demonstrated that many of the best ideas come from the front line, the people who are actually doing your organization's work each day.

Recently I heard about a a new idea management software, 15Five, that could help organizations with idea management and innovation streams.  It seemed like one simple way to take ideas from many aspects of an organization and feed those ideas to management in streamlined, efficient ways. Although, I'm wondering if that program gives credit and voice to the people who first share the ideas, because if idea sharers never receive credit or response, the ideas might stop. I'm sure there are many other systems and strategies out there for growing organizations and letting innovation streams flow.  If you have one you like, I hope you'll share as I believe the addition of inclusive idea streams in every organization will enhance the mission, vision and work performed.

Many Leaders

As a classroom teacher, I have many leaders including a school administrator, district administrators, Union leaders and curriculum leaders in special education, math/science, English language arts and technology.

I also have many students and family members to respond to, and support/specialist staff (coaches, art, music, physical education, library, technology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech) to coordinate with.

It's a complex daily schedule--one that I have to navigate each day to prioritize and respond to with care in order to teach children well.

There's minimal collegial time, and little official planning time, hence a lot of communication occurs by email which isn't always the most effective medium for sharing and debate.

I think school structures and schedules can be streamlined so that teachers' time to plan, respond to and educate students is maximized and prioritized.  Sometimes those with the most day-to-day direct service for planning and teaching have the least scheduled time and voice for choice--thus making the role more of a "carry-out the plans" role than a truly professional educator role.

I'd like to see the role of classroom educator lifted with greater autonomy, more reasonable schedules, and greater streamlining of leadership.  I'd like to see our ability and time to collaborate, make decisions, and innovate grow as I believe that would continue the movement of strengthening and developing schools for best effect when it comes to student learning.

Many say, "Just be satisfied, why do you have to question everything?"  Sometimes I wish I didn't notice or see the potential I see--sometimes I wish I could simply follow rules without thinking and assessment, but the joy I get in the work I do comes from doing the job well, and doing the job well for me is a continual movement towards doing it better.

Note:
Since this post was initially written, time for collaboration has increased by 30 minutes. That's not a lot of time, but it is a significant, positive change. Also, due to a streamlined teaching model this year, the number of leaders/coaches I work with was reduced. This created greater time for more depth with regard to the teaching/learning program--another positive change.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

2013 Journey in Quotes

The year will be filled with moments good and bad, high and low.  One way I am going to note this journey is through quotes that best mark the moment. It will be interesting to see what this blog post of quotes looks like at the end of the year.

January 27
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” 
― Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

January 28
I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones. 
John Cage 

January 28
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” 
― Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed


January 29

January 30
“Pain is a pesky part of being human, I've learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart, something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here. Pain is a sudden hurt that can't be escaped. But then I have also learned that because of pain, I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing. Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart. But then healing feels like the wind against your face when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air! We may not have wings growing out of our backs, but healing is the closest thing that will give us that wind against our faces.” 
― C. JoyBell C.

February 10

“Share our similarities, celebrate our differences.”  ― M. Scott Peck



#edchatma: New Science Standards' Conversation


I am looking forward to tonight's #edchatma discussion about the new science standards from 8pm to 9pm. Please join the discussion if you're interested.


I did an initial overview of the material on the NGSS website, and had the following first impressions, questions and thoughts about later learning. Note that the document is on its second revision and there's still time to weigh in with your comments and feedback via the NGSS website.

I was inspired by the introductory video: http://vimeo.com/41706647

Then I quickly found myself moving around the website only to realize that information is both broad and deep, and specific and targeted.  Hence it is essential to create a framework for learning--a learning path that will be both informative and helpful. 

I plan to follow this path:

1. Participate in tonight's #edchatma from 8-9 on Twitter as that will awaken my thoughts and questions with respect to the new standards. 

2. Look at my grade-specific standards' and concepts' recommendations via this the website's search tools, and potentially weave the new standards into our spring endangered species unit, and next fall's science rotations.

Search by topic, concept: http://www.nextgenscience.org/search-standards

Search by grade and discipline: http://www.nextgenscience.org/search-standards?tid%5B%5D=2


4. Keep my eyes open with regard to both State and system timelines and roll out plans. I noted that Massachusetts joined the 26-state collaboration to develop the Next Generation Science Standards in 2011, but I could not find any projected timelines or implementation information.

5. Create a list of questions to lead inquiry beginning with the following:
  • Will our system match its practice and work to the standards?
  • What resources will our system, the state and other professional organizations provide to help teachers learn about, and implement the standards?
  • What kinds of school rooms, tools and schedules will inspire and make possible new standards' study?
  • Will there be a more specific online book club or initiative to learn about the standards in depth?
6. I will download the free version of the new standards book at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13165 and read as inspired.

7. Also, as another way to build in the new standards now, I'll look for ways to implement crosscutting concepts when possible throughout my current curriculum. The crosscutting concepts are dynamic concepts for building students' ability to interrelate knowledge and concept with critical thought and work.
    • Patterns, similarity, and diversity;
    • Cause and effect;
    • Scale, proportion and quantity;
    • Systems and system models;
    • Energy and matter; Structure and function;
    • Stability and change.

This is truly just the bugle call for a revised area of professional work and study. Thanks to the #edchatma team to waking me up to the promise this work holds for student learning and engagement.




Ideas and Innovation Rerouted

Thanks to the inspirational and thoughtful comments of my PLN and a good night's rest, I realized  that I have to take my ideas and innovation down another path.  That's why I tweet, blog, attend edcamps and present at conferences--to route my ideas into avenues where there are supportive, idea-people who are interested in growing schools just like me.

So yesterday when I met push back about a new idea, I became frustrated as with all the push back there was little rationale when it came to research or facts related to student learning, engagement and success--the mainstay and focus of my work as an educator. Then, in sleep, I realized that the biggest issues with this idea is that I couldn't do it alone because it required downloading to our system, the idea required the efforts and permission of many other educators whereas web-based, crowdsourced and online venues are usually available at a click of the key.  Hence, that's the route I'll have to take to try out new learning venues for now--not a bad route since it's a route students can often travel with ease since the venues are open to all.

In the meantime, Diane Marcus sent me an invitation to participate in tonight's #edChatMA, a discussion amongst Massachusetts educators and anyone else whose interested from 8pm to 9pm.  Tonight's focus will be the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This is a document that will impact the work I do in the years to come--work that I'm interested in since I believe if we begin students' education with wonderful science exploration and discovery, we will foster a more positive attitude towards science and the development of more scientists.

I'm going to prep for the talk now, and will write some initial notes. Thanks again to Diane and her colleagues who have created this wonderful way to share ideas and learn so that we're prepared to embed and teach these new standards.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tell Me What I'm Doing Wrong

I get a lot of push back.

I painstakingly plan lessons and research the work I do.

I listen to children, and use the best tools at my access to support student learning.

Generally, my students are happy, productive and making progress.

I'm not perfect.  I make mistakes.  I take risks.  I learn a lot.

But after 27 years of teaching, I know that the key is to put student engagement and learning first in any discussion that involves education.  And when I put students first, I think of holistic education--not just standards, current curriculum, program constraints and mandates, but the whole child.

I speak up when I see the potential and promise. I question roles, responsibilities and actions when I think we can do a better job.  I look to my own work and try to improve my craft and delivery.

I'm okay with push back if it comes with rationale, reason and examples of how my thoughts, ideas and effort could be better with regard to teaching children well, but I'm not okay with push back when it's related more to systematic rules and red tape.

I don't want "getting better" in education to be a constant battle for new ideas and innovations, instead I want to work together with my colleagues to grow our school with strength and kindness in an effort to serve children well.

Tell me what I'm doing wrong in this regard, but please be gentle.  I'm tired from the weary battles waged.

Digital Books?

Are you an expert with regard to digital books?  What advice do you have for me?

My students are starting to choose digital books more often.  They enjoy choosing a story and banding together to listen to it. I see them sprawled out on their bean bags listening to stories together laughing and discussing the story.

Our school has some access to digital stories, but not enough to run a book group or foster a just right book selection for a student who wants to read a book in school and at home too.  What do you suggest?

My initial thoughts are that our movement toward digital books should include the following:
  • web based books that can be accessed via multiple tools in school, at home and anywhere that there is Internet access.
  • multiple copies of multiple books for book groups and book shares.
  • books that have access to image, audio, Internet search, text adaptation and dictionary tools.
  • web devices that are easy to hold, carry, and share with others.
  • enough devices so that we can run book groups, let everyone who wants one use a digital book and share class books as well.
My questions include:
  • What's the best web-based device to use for digital books?  What will have the longest life, ease of use and hardiness factor as I'm at elementary school?
  • What's the most cost efficient device?
  • What happens when students listen and read along rather than read books on their own?  What does the research say?
Thanks for sending me your links and thoughts with regard to this quest.  I realize that digital books are making their way to homes and schools at a rapid pace--I want my students to be up to date with this medium, and use it in profitable ways to develop their reading skills. 

The Tech Track?

The SAMR model is a popular method of integrating technology into schools. 

How do we weave the tech track through our school structures, schedules and curriculum?  Where is this track wide and inclusive and where does the track narrow?  Is it a slick easy-to-use track, a rough bumpy path, or a bit of both?

As I consider the tech track, I have the following thoughts. Please note that I updated this post on July 28, 2015. 

Integrate Tech into All Endeavor: Integrate tech into all endeavor, and consider all educators as tech integrators. While there's still a need for those who have expertise with tech infrastructure and tools, tech should no longer be considered a separate subject, but instead looked at as a worthy tool for learning throughout the curriculum. A focus on student learning is an optimal goal for all educators in every department, and the intersection of educators' work in all disciplines with and without technology is where that optimal learning will grow with greatest effect. 

  • How do we restructure tech departments of old so that they support tech use, but are not seen as a separate discipline?
Choose Streamlined, Efficient Tech: Mainly choose streamlined, efficient tools that emphasize the vitality, collaboration and intent of the learning endeavor. As we consider new tools, we should think about unmet students' needs and interests, global and community needs, deep, relevant, and meaningful learning, and new innovations. 
  • What tools currently in place, do teachers deem to be most effective? (I've listed my favorites)
    • Content creation tools such as iMovie, Animoto, Garageband, Google apps, KidPix, WeVideo, SCRATCH, SCRATCH, Jr., Khan Coding. 
    • Skills tools such as That Quiz, SumDog, Khan Academy, Lexia, Xtra Math.
  • What curriculum needs require greater attention, and what tech tools do we desire to achieve those goals?
    • STEAM: Explore/Investigation/Creation Tools
    • Language Learning/English Language Learners: More online tools to support that learning.
  • What kinds of tools do you want to investigate and explore with greater depth?  How do you include the teaching community in this inquiry-based activity? 
    • Gaming Tools: To learn specific skills, to foster inquiry based collaboration and to grow spacial awareness.
    • Open attitude, pathways and response to teachers' will to explore, innovate and implement worthy tech and other tools to further student engagement and learning. 
  • Who has the authority in a system to approve or deny new technology tools? Do the decision makers have regular responsibility for students' scores and learning success, and do they work with students regularly? What is the process?  Do educators have choice and voice when it comes to technology choices?
Dynamic Collaboration: Foster regular, dynamic conversation and learning design amongst educators at multiple disciplines and grade levels as a way of identifying and growing tech innovation and change. New tech should never be a surprise, instead make the learning community continually aware of the questions asked, research in progress, work, decisions and implementation. Also, welcome the outliers and naysayers through online and offline conversation and share. 
  • What are the best ways to foster dynamic conversation?
    • PLCs, PD, Online Conversations, Newsletters, Idea Streams (like Twitter), Blogs
    • Leadership support and involvement--leading the way and demonstrating that these conversations are vital to the growth of a system. 
    • Surveys and response. Sharing survey data with the learning community. 

Varied, Regular Tech Use: Provide students with lots of varied experience with tech so that they are able to use the tools with accuracy and facility to support collaboration, investigation, inquiry and communication. Early use of tech when students are most open minded allows students to learn and access the tools in a natural, integrated way. 
  • Continue the conversation and action with the learning community with regard to this effort.  
    • Involve family members in the conversation and learning efforts related to technology and other learning endeavor. 
    • Survey about best practices, needs, and transparently share and discuss the results of the survey with the entire learning team: students, families, educators, leaders, and community members. 
    • Choose the best tools, and create opportunities for 24-7 use. 
    • Host information on a shared website or social media thread that affords the entire learning team with updated information regarding what's available, questions posed, and new information. 
Early Start to Social Media: An early start to social media helps students to naturally embrace and successfully use the medium. It is important to consider the platforms available and guide students' use in developmentally appropriate and legal ways. 
  • Identify optimal social media platforms and use. 
  • Foster two-way conversation with the learning team i.e. families, students, educators.
  • Choose the best platforms for each level and create goals.
  • Involve families in social media use for young children--creating an online virtual classroom community. 
  • Use social media platforms in teaching and learning as a natural way to introduce students to social media use and protocols. 
Transparency and Communication: People learn well in innovative, open cultures of share, exploration and communication. Foster and embrace transparent, regular communication to build a vibrant, focused culture. 
  • Regular updates for the learning community
  • Updated websites and information resources
  • Simple, streamlined, effective and integrated communication systems
  • Open forums for innovation, exploration, share, and use. 
I am a fan of holistic education, a balance of many tools, structures and strategies.  I see tech as one integrated and important education track.  In this post, I've outlined ideas for weaving the tech track into schools at this juncture in the education evolution. What did I miss?  What would you change?  Tech has been an education enhancement in so many ways--it is a vital tool for learning, one that we need to continually support with a thoughtful, evolving approach. 

Growing School

Someone recently suggested that we're like gardeners these days, nurturing and growing schools with all the new tools and possibilities that now exist.

So as I look forward to this year and next, what will I do to grow school in the next few months and year. It's difficult to think beyond that time frame as the world is changing at such a rapid rate.

Staff: While tech tools are bountiful, we know that skilled educators and assistants can move mountains when it comes to coaching and leading student learning.  Just yesterday, a teaching assistant in my classroom told me a breakthrough story about how he was able to coach two students on a simple, but powerful math concept that helped the children make a breakthrough in math facts fluency and accuracy. Another teaching assistant recently agreed to run a skills lab so that students could access responsive tech while I run a targeted learning lab in the classroom including many teacher-student edits.  Also, local universities and colleges send us preservice teachers who help to educate our children with care and investment. I will continue to look for ways that we can maximize our educator efforts and time to best serve student learning.

Student-to-Student Coaching: Last summer in Hattie's book, Making Learning Visible for Teachers, I read the powerful research related to the positive impact of student-to-student collaboration. I was always reluctant to employ this as I didn't want to "use" advanced students to help teach all students, but the research clearly shows that all students gain when they are put in situations where they coach each other. Yesterday, a young boy helped to solidify this construct for me when he met his math facts goal. I remarked, "Wow, your mom is going to be proud of you." and he replied, "____(name of his student coach)__ is even going to be prouder."  His student coach had taken the job seriously and tried a number of approaches to help the boy reach his goal--he acknowledged her investment, his gratitude and pride.  Terrific!

Skills Lab: I want to more creatively schedule the day so that some of the day is targeted on a skills lab approach. During skills labs (essentially an RTI approach for all students) students will move to and from many learning endeavors including responsive tech, collaborative learning, small teacher-led groups, independent work and more. Essentially, the time will be spent targeting students' individual skill needs with optimal, engaging, successful education tools and strategies.

Project/Problem Base Learning: I want to think more about this time of the day with my colleagues. This is a time of day where we can integrate students' passions and interests with greater depth while also giving students a chance to explore and learn new tools and processes.  We can also embed many standards, learning concepts, skills, knowledge, the design processes and 21st century skills (creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills) into these blocks with engagement. We have discussed asking for a professional day to map out the curriculum year and optimize our resources to help in this regard.

Metacognitive Awareness: Laying a strong foundation of "learning to learn" knowledge and mindsets develops metacognitive awareness and gives students the tools, attitude and desire to learn with strength. I can now often turn a child around with the simple question, "Do you have a growth mindset or fixed mindset about this topic?" or with the statement, "I'm wondering if you really believe that you can learn this because if you don't believe you can learn it, then it may be difficult." Further, revealing untruths and myths such as people are born "without a math gene" helps to encourage students forward and dispel roadblocks to learning.

Physical Environment: The addition of a great tech tools cart, lots of bean bag chairs, a big rug and moveable shelves has created a much more inviting and adaptable environment for learning.  I will continue to keep my eyes open for affordable, fire resistant, comfortable furniture and storage units for the classroom. I also have my eyes on portable sound studios for recording projects, and possible structures for STEAM labs.

Online Units: I have moved most of our grade-level units to Google sites so students, family members and colleagues can access the unit outlines, tools and links 24-7.  This creates greater independence and flexibility with the units. I will continue to organize and revise these units with colleagues to best meet students' learning needs and interests.

Tools: We utilize multiple online and offline tools.  I want to continue to use, try out and/or employ the following tools in the months, year ahead.
  • Laptops: we have 50% one-to-one with laptops which is awesome for all the content creation projects we engage in.
  • iPads: I would like to have a cart of iPads available for our grade-level.  There are many wonderful apps available that make learning accessible.
  • Computer labs: Our school has two labs and these make wonderful "go to" places for specific learning endeavors and skills' labs. 
  • Digital story tools: Students more and more want to access digital books.  They love the fact that they can share the stories easily with classmates as three or four students may read and listen to the story at the same time. They also will be able to utilize online tools such as dictionaries, web searches and others to make meaning. I need to continue my research in this area to fulfill this need. I'll start with a student discussion and a collegial survey.
  • "Rockstars" and headphones: Students are social learners.  They will often use a rockstar to share an online tool.
  • Engaging online games and tools.  Students love SumDog as they can play against each other.  I like it because it's a math software that grows at students' rate of learning and offers  reports.  Other engaging online tools we use often include Google aps, iMovie, Garageband, PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, Manga Math, Greg Tang, That Quiz, and Xtra Math. We use Lexia and Symphony too to build skill and concept.  Students have also identified a list of other tools.  It's time for me to think more about the tools we use, and begin to try out new tools.  I'm especially interested in trying out Minecraft for educators, Atlantis Quest and  enrichment math and STEAM games and tools. 
Research and Development: Our school started a professional blog, Collaborate, where educators have the chance to share their learning from books and professional organizations.  So far only a few educators and administrators have engaged with that.  There's still a reluctance to share in that way. We also have the chance to share weekly at PLCs which are a wonderful, collaborative time to troubleshoot, goal set, analyze data and plan for student learning.  We have professional development times and informal share in real time and online too.  Personally, I want to set aside time each week to learn and develop my craft, and I also want to look for more optimal collegial opportunities to do the same. It is particularly important for research and development to engage in learning opportunities outside of the school system and profession in order to gain new insights and knowledge. 

Conferences and Coaching Meetings: While we have parent conferences twice a year as part of our routine, I want to consider a shift from a reporting meeting (the conference) to a more spontaneous coaching meeting.  This is something I am offering now in addition to a conference, and a concept I want to read more about.  

From School to Learning Community: I want to continue to consider the shift from the idea of school to the concept of a learning community.  A learning community suggests a broader learning platform than school and includes families, students, educators, staff and community members. The learning community extends to the community as well online and offline including museums, nature preserves, local businesses and international locations via Skype, Hangout, Blackboard or other platforms. 

Community Building and Service Learning: The principal in our school started a wonderful service learning component last year.  That has fostered terrific community and a positive, kind spirit in our school.  I want to think about how I can incorporate that into our yearly learning menu with both student spontaneity and response as well as meaning and learning.

Global Citizens: Many are talking about teaching citizenship in general rather than a focus on digital citizenship. I'm wondering how we can build students' awareness and global citizenship attitudes and actions with strength and engagement.  This is something I want to discuss with colleagues. 

Last summer reading Hattie's book, Making Learning Visible for Teachers, reinvigorated and affirmed my investment in engaging, responsive student learning.  We are at an incredibly powerful time in education.  I've roughly listed the main areas for growth and attention for my school year ahead. What am I missing?  Addition and revision ideas are welcome. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

In Light of Bountiful Ideas

Ideas abound.  Possibility is limitless.  So, how do I travel this road?

At school, my time-on-task with children will focus on engagement, essential skills, community, creativity and communication.

After hours, my professional time will be spent on learning and creating.  Learning about concepts, knowledge, skills and tools that will impact the work I do with strength and promise.  I will also spend this time creating learning endeavor that is responsive to students' interests, curiosity, passions, and needs.

Then of course joy!  Joy with those I love and with the world's great wonders both in nature and the human-created world around me.

Ideas abound. Promise invites. Finding the best paths to a life well lived is the quest.

The New World of Education

If you enter classrooms today, you'll often not see a teacher at the front of the room sharing information and leading the students. Instead you'll see students fanned out in the room and outside of it working on projects, creating multimedia compositions, reading, researching and collaborating.  In many ways, it's a much more fluid process than in the past, and with that change comes many questions and needs.

1. As we weave recording and voice more into presentations and projects, we enhance and enrich fluency skills and prepare students for future online communication and public speaking. But to record, you need a quiet space. Where in schools will we build in quiet spaces for mindful recording and audio composition?

2. When children are finished with online research and creation, what choices are left for them, and how do they access those choices.  Let's face it students today know the engaging learning platforms that are available out there.  How do we foster optimal choices, independence, goal-oriented learning and healthy play too?

3. And the perennial question, how do we foster dynamic questions around learning priorities and tools? How do we make decisions about best curriculum, and do we let students be part of that conversation?

The new world of education is opening the doors to possibilities we could only dream of many years ago. How do we proceed so we embrace those possibilities with strength and purpose?

Wait Time?

I'm waiting.

I'm waiting to find out about the structure, content and tools available for an upcoming professional development session share that I want to contribute to, but need lead time to plan well.

I'm waiting for permission to try out a well-researched gaming software that seems like one of the best inroads to collaborative online inquiry for young children (Atlantis Quest).  I need permission before I'm able to download the software on my school computer, and I don't have my own computer.

I'm waiting to see what people think about an idea I've posed regarding serving students better in math--it may not be the best idea, but no one has responded, and I'm wondering why.  To me the idea seems like a natural next step to a program that's working well, and can even work better.

I'm waiting to read the minutes of many meetings, meetings that impact my work, and meetings where the minutes have not been posted.

I'm waiting for lots of information that has the potential to positively impact my work with children.  I've asked for most of the information more than once, and in some cases I want the information in writing so that I have both a resource and something to share with colleagues who are similarly interested.

Now perhaps I'm impatient. Perhaps I desire to move in directions that are not deemed important right now?  Perhaps information share is not the goal with regard to some of these endeavors?

The waiting, however, is tiresome and leads to conjecture rather than positive energy.  I like to stay ahead of the game.  While I'm implementing and working thoughtfully with students during the day, I like to be planning and researching future endeavor during the evenings.  That flow works well for change, best practice and new ideas.

So, why the wait?

Insights welcome.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Intersection After Effects

The Intersection Event impacted me in so many ways.  First, I really enjoyed and profited from the diverse, targeted dialogue about ideas, promise and possibility. Next, I liked the vitality and engagement present at the event--so many idea-people sharing and discussing innovation.  I also liked the vibrant Google environment.

Upon returning to school, I found myself enthused and invigorated--leaning far more toward engagement and inquiry versus management and control.  I want my students to ask questions, experiment, share information, create and discover.  I continue to be amazed by their creative spirits and innovative energy.

I also have found myself needing to realign my goals and work--where am I headed and what do I want to spend my time on.  Hence, yet another priority list:

Rich Content and Process: I don't want to waste time on content or process that's dull; instead I want to embed the best literature, informational text, digital platforms, learning processes and tools into the program I teach.

Life Long Learning: A steady diet of learning engages me and makes me a much more interesting teacher.  At present, I want to explore the concepts of STEAM with greater investment.  I also want to learn about Atlantis Quest and Minecraft, two new gaming tools that many are pointing to as positive, forward reaching learning tools and experiences.

Reading and Writing Fluency and Skill: I want to continue to immerse myself in this study and endeavor as these skills continue to hold essential skill status in our world.

Multimedia Composition:  I will continue to grow my skill and ability in this area--a 21st century communication literacy that's engaging and versatile.

Pushing out the Classroom Walls: I want to plan our zoo experience with care so that students are taking open, inquisitive minds and tech tools off site to explore animal science, habitats and zoology with depth.

Student Creativity and Voice: In as many ways possible I want to nurture student creativity and voice--giving students the chance to lead their learning with enthusiasm and curiosity.

We want to nurture enthusiastic learners with growth mindsets--students who believe that they can learn well in multiple environments with a diversity of tools, students who are kind, caring problem solvers who understand the importance of a good education and a mindful approach to personal endeavor.

I'm excited by the potential that education holds today for positive change and endeavor.




Digital Stories: Project Benefits

My students are creating digital stories--it has been a lengthy, deep process of brainstorming, story writing, illustration, multimedia composition and share.

There are so many aspects of this project that I really like and find beneficial including the following:

Engagement: Students love the project; they work for hours crafting their stories with care.

Story: The increased attention on the synergy of words, illustration and music bring wonderful stories to life in ways that text alone can't do for fourth graders.

The Intersection of Image and Text: It has been wonderful to see how text has informed image, and image informed text.  The interplay has made the writing more accessible and specific to all of the young writers.

Audience: When we share the films, the students are engaged in watching each others' stories unfold. They react with comments and critical thought.  Each child's story helps to inform their classmates' writing.

Fluency: Fluency practice and discussion is embedded in each project because each child has to record his/her story. We find ourselves discussing pacing, expression and accuracy regularly as a learning team.

Imperfection: Since this project has many elements, we sometimes have to make a decision that it's good enough since the time just doesn't exist for many, many recordings or perfect pictures--with writing there's always room for growth.

Repetition: Students get to watch and listen to their stories over and over again.  They also have the chance to easily share their stories with family members and friends near and far.  This repetition also informs their work as writers and storytellers.

21st Century Story: In students' lives, they will utilize digital stories often to access information and entertainment, their creation of a digital story gives them greater understanding of the venue which will allow them to access and create digital stories with greater understanding.

Today, we'll continue to work on this project. We're approaching the end, and students are busy helping one another with all the steps.

Have you employed digital story creation in your classroom?  If so, how did the project work?  What were the benefits?  What did you learn from the project as an educator?  Thanks in advance for any ideas, thoughts or processes you may share to grow this project.

Lead Time?

I generally like to be prepared.

Like most teachers, my days are filled with direct service to children, so I've learned to do my professional work with lead time and care.

For example, if I'm going to present at a conference, I usually know months in advance so I spend bits and pieces of time reading, researching and prepping for the conference far in advance--that's the way I'm able to do both.

In some cases sadly, the information is not available.  I find out last minute about an initiative, effort or possibility, and for teachers like me who are time-on-task most days, that makes the event inaccessible, undoable and outside of my reach. Some, who may have extensive planning and prep time, might not understand that crunch and need for lead time.

Without lead time, teachers' voices are hindered, hence it's essential that if you truly want to include the voices of teachers in the work you do, give them the lead time and information they need to participate with thought, planning and care. That's both respectful and worthwhile to organizations that want to grow with strength and promise.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teacher: Parent Coach?

Teachers can't do it alone, and neither can parents.

We need to coach each other well in order to help students succeed with confidence, skill and engagement.

I'm becoming a bit relentless in my efforts to communicate and coach families with regard to student success in school, yet I understand the constraints and challenges home study and practice present as I'm a parent too--a less than perfect parent when it comes to supporting my own children's home study and practice.

The key is working together, informing one another and keeping the child center stage in the process.  I'll be thinking about the best ways to promote this interaction in the days to come.

Thoughts and wisdom welcome.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Too Much to Teach

We have the tools.
We have many positive structures and schedules.
We have the experience.
The problem remains however that we have more standards to teach, than time to teach them well.

Some suggest a longer day or a longer year, but with current structure, schedules, roles and responsibilities I am not in favor of that because as a classroom teacher my time-on-task is currently extensive, and my time for planning and response minimal.  More of the same would lead to stress and frustration.

At fourth grade students are required to learn the following:
  • Many math skills and concepts with depth and breadth.
  • The ability to explain math thinking and solve problems with clarity and written response.
  • The ability to respond to specific reading comprehension questions with specific evidence and close reading.
  • The ability to write a lengthy story and/or essay that demonstrates organization, craft and voice. 
  • Concept, skill, knowledge and practice across disciplines for many specific subjects and content areas.
To teach the concepts, skills and knowledge above well takes time and care.  To engage students' imaginations and engagement, requires response--response to current technologies and media, response to students' passions and interests, response to students' differentiated learning profiles and response to community/world issues and needs.  Also to teach well today requires professional development, research and development--the world is changing and to learn and change with it also helps educators to stay current, responsive and engaging. 

What needs to happen?

First, we need to prioritize with the theme "less is more" in mind.  One way we can do that is to open up our project/unit topics so we are focusing on "learning to learn" skills with embedded standards and greater voice and choice related to specific topics. This practice would lead us to open-ended, differentiated project/problem labs--a time when students explore, investigate and apply the learning they've gained during discrete learning sessions. 

Then, we can teach a lot of knowledge points through small-group advisories, shared reading and discussion.  

Next, we need to continue to develop our PLCs and RTI to collaboratively respond to students' specific skill, content and knowledge needs in targeted, efficient ways making the best possible use of the people-time (teacher and student) available.

After that, we have to shortlist--I recommend choosing 10 topics you will teach with depth and care during the year, and creating order for those topics.

Finally, we need to continue to take a close look at roles, eliminate redundancies and spread the responsibility for project planning, teaching and response so that every educator has direct responsibility for all aspects of student learning from start to finish. 

Stuffing the year with too many topics and requirements will lead to frustration and stress--scheduling a reasonable set of priorities and goals accompanied by roles and responsibilities to meet those challenges is the best path to take.  I will keep this in mind as I move on with this year's program and begin to plan and organize for next year.  As always, your thoughts and ideas are welcome.