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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Creating Tension; Solving Problems

Last year on my evaluation I was chided for creating tension. I've thought a lot about this and see both positive and not-so-positive connections to this.

First of all, I ask a lot of questions and these questions create tension. In general, many people don't like to question established programs and processes. On the other hand, as a critical thinker, I am always questioning what we do and why we do it. I am always seeking betterment in my work on my own and our collective work. This search for betterment creates tension.

Next, the tension also exists because we don't have significant process or culture for questioning. I believe our current system structure leaves little room for good questioning and process related to questioning. If there were good structures for research and development, questions would be embraced rather than seen as creating tension.

On the other hand, the way I think and respond to situations that create questioning is a tension I can learn to change. For example, I tend to ignore and bury the initial indicators of challenge or problems and when those indicators become more and more clear, I reach a moment of realization that a problem exists. When I reach that recognition, I typically respond with big emotion--this is a tension I can change. Instead, I have to react to indicators signaling problems earlier rather than later. For example, children with problems tend to reveal their problems with unexpected and worrisome behaviors. Rather than burying the observation of those behaviors when they first occur, I have to train myself to call home and reach for help earlier than later. Similarly when problems in program delivery or planning occur, I have to speak up earlier than later. You can't wish problems away, instead you are best to tackle those problems with thoughtful, systematic response.

The biggest problem I'm working on right now is how to better elevate the growth and development of our most struggling learners. What can we do to uplift their learning in positive, life enriching ways? It's a great problem to work on alone and with my colleagues. As I've noted before we are a school system with tremendous capacity for doing a great job. I believe we can tackle this problem with depth and positivity. I think that if we use a more collaborative, strategic, and researched-based model for this problem, we will earn greater results.

So I don't mind causing tension that relates to the challenge this problem presents, but I don't want to cause tension with regard to emotional expression, lack of process, or even lack of respect.

I'm going to think about this more, and in the meantime, if you and your organization have great processes in place to tackle the big problems of teaching; problems that hold promise for betterment for every child's education--let me know. This is a problem I'm very curious and interested in. I want to see the promise in problems particularly this problem that I'm passionate about rather than treat them with contempt.

Math Growth and Development 2017

The math path has started. The downside is it is too rushed in my opinion, but that's out of my control due to systemwide leadership and pacing decisions. I would slow it down for good teaching and foundation building--I know that would be better for this group. Next, while the path benefits from many dedicated educators, there isn't enough good time and good process for those educators to work together. We're going to discuss that this week and try to reach a better planning/prep process.

The good news is that, in general, we have an invested teaching/learning community. We've given a number of good assessments that have informed the teaching/learning path, and we have a number of great online and offline tools to use to teach math well.

The next steps on the math teaching year path include the following

  • meet to discuss prep/planning collaboration, goals, and responsibility
  • complete unit one and assess
  • review assessments and begin RTI
  • create booklet for the next unit
  • create online expectations for next unit
  • include more floor-to-ceiling explorations for next unit--explorations that put the "cognitive load" on students' shoulders rather than the teachers (research shows this to be more effective teaching)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Family-Student-Teacher(s) Conference: A Learning Event

As the young girl read her marvelous story today during the family-student-teacher conference, I realized that the conference is truly a learning event.

The parent and I were learning about the student, and the student was learning about herself as she read her story and made commentary along the way.

Also during this conference period students presented portrayals of themselves as readers, STEAM leaders, students of social studies, and mathematicians. As children sat at the table leading their conferences metacognition grew and so did my understanding of where a child is at this point in his/her learning career and where I'd like to coach the student forward.

If well designed the Family-Student-Teacher conference at fifth grade can be as much of a learning event as a sharing/goal setting event. I want to explore this idea more and if you have anything to offer, please do.

Is it Time for Inclusion to Move to Personalization/Collaboration Focus

I started teaching when almost all special education services were provided outside of the classroom. Then inclusion came, and students were mainly serviced within the classroom setting. Now at a time of RTI (Response to Intervention), personalization, and greater student voice, choice, and collaboration, I'm wondering if it is time to shift the special education/regular education model and intersection again.

I wonder if the movement this time is to greater team teaching which means that the entire team of grade-level teachers, specialists, special educators, therapists, and assistants meet, study the students, and plan a teaching/learning course of action that helps all children achieve--a course of action that includes collaborative work, individual/small group coaching, whole class presentations, projects, assessments and more.

Our team does a lot of this now. We meet in PLC to review student assessments, needs, and interests. We develop and grow programs together. We all teach and take an interest in every child. What we may need to do more is use our imaginations, time, creativity, knowledge, and drive to better target and tailor learning so that we meet more needs in better ways. We're already doing a good job--there's much more that is strong and right, but I think this shift might make us even better.

Many schools haven't embraced the collaborative model we use, a model that depends on PLCs, RTI, shared teaching, specialization, and a whole team focus on all students at a grade level. In some schools, it's still the one-teacher-one-classroom model. And in some schools, specialists may arrive to help, but not plan lessons or tailor targeted approaches to lift students up. In some schools there may be less communication amongst all educators, and in some schools there may be little time for this kind of collaboration.

I think it's time to overhaul how we provide services, and in that overhaul we can't lose sight of the good progress made by students when they do have an IEP, specific goals, inclusion, and tailored targeted coaching and teaching by skilled educators. Yet in the overhaul, we might redefine what it means to team, target, and teach children in ways that matter.

I don't have all the answers, and I know that it's in our dedicated collaboration that we do better for the children and each other. Moving ahead to match the research and meet the great potential that exists is challenging work that calls for the best of all of us. It's not easy, and we won't always do it right, but we have to keep trying because a really good education for every child spells greater happiness, success, contribution, and communities. Onward.

Friday Musings: October 20, 2017

Not surprisingly administrative work fell to the wayside these past few weeks as I helped students prepare for and carry out family-student-teacher conferences. With all but three conferences yet to go, I'll be ready to devote some good time to that administrative work such as collecting/collating forms, field trip money management, and field studies/expert visitor scheduling next week.

Next week also finds students studying rounding and getting ready for Wednesday's or Thursday's first unit test--the Place Value test. My book group will continue reading and discussing Swindle, and we'll start our science matter unit.

Professionally the week includes the MTA's Teaching and Professional Learning meeting, a meeting devoted to discussing the math program, and a PLC devoted to math RTI groups.

At the meeting where we discuss the math program, we'll take a deeper look at scheduling, targeted support, and communication amongst many dedicated professionals. At PLC we'll create six-week RTI groups based on Thursday's assessment.

A continued focus on healthy, positive routines will continue throughout each day. There will be three extra help sessions offered too, and at least one remaining family-student-teacher conference and hopefully two more.

The six-week period of getting to know students and starting the year is past, and now we're digging into the learning. This is my favorite part of the year :)

Meeting the Needs of the Most Challenged Learners

In general our students do extraordinarily well due to multiple factors such as loving homes, wonderful life experiences, a supportive teaching/learning community, substantial in-school and out-of-school supports, good health, nutrition, and rest, wonderful extracurricular programs, dedicated family members and teachers, and lots more. We are a privileged school with much to be grateful for and proud of.

Yet we do have a pocket of students who don't demonstrate the same success as others, and I am wondering how we can affect better growth and development for those students. This is a question that often finds educators and administrators at odds with and amongst each other since there are many perspectives with regard to students that struggle.

As I think of this issue, there are a number of strategies that have worked with students who fall into this category. Those efforts include the following:
  • Steady, consistent, targeted, small-group or individualized supports with skilled educators
  • Culturally proficient teaching/learning efforts
  • In-school and at-home targeted tech-related support
  • Positive coaching and support
  • Thoughtful attention, analysis, and decision-making prior to the start of the school year with regard to scheduling and programming
  • Professional patterns that support optimal research, development, and service
Efforts that don't work as well include the following:
  • less targeted, drive-by supports
  • less effective lesson planning
  • less rigorous standards and expectations
  • groups that are too big or too disruptive to teach
  • lack of role models or examples of best learning
  • lack of good strategic analysis and programming
  • coaching that is not positive or uplifting, but instead demeaning
So as I think deeply about what we could have done to uplift the development of the very few students who didn't make as much progress as others last year, I think we may have done the following:
  • less choppy, and more consistent support. For example one student who had steady support with a skilled teacher made much more progress than another student who had choppy supports with multiple professionals.
  • at-home and in-school targeted tech support. A child who made substantial progress had this, while the students who made less progress, in general, did not have this.
  • small groups or independent service delivery. In some cases, I believe the service delivery for those who did not make as much progress included groups that were too large for the kind of sensitive, targeted support they needed. 
  • high expectations. I do think that, in some cases, the expectations for what students are capable of were too low thus translating into less progress.
I want to be mindful of my own work in this regard as we can always get better at serving every child. So as I move my teaching/learning work forward I want to work towards those attributes that truly affect best progress and development. 


This week I met a professional challenge.

As typical of most challenges I face on the professional front, the challenge rose unexpectedly surprising me. I had not anticipated this event.


Perhaps I did not listen well or understand early year communications related to the issue.

Perhaps there were a variety of understanding at play, understandings not well communicated or shared by anyone.

Perhaps there were different philosophies and alliances too.

I really don't know, but I do know that challenges like this do arise now and then, and when they do, there is usually a tipping point--a place where the challenge stares you right in the face and says, "Do something."

My initial response to challenge is to ignore it or get frustrated. This isn't good. It's better to see the promise in challenge--to try to dissect it, understand it, and conquer it with best effort and effect. As I tell my students, I want to reframe my challenge response by doing the following:

  • Ask clarifying questions
  • Discover the history related to the event
  • Express my own point of view related to the event
  • Work with others to figure out the next steps
Challenge is an opportunity for good change and forward movement, and that's the attitude I want to use as I move forward. 

Parent/Family-Student-Teacher Conferences: What Works

I'm working with my team to deepen and better student-family-teacher(s) conferences. We put a lot of time into this because research demonstrates how important family-teacher relations are to the overall success of students.
  • Lead time for sign-up
  • Online sign up
  • Students present at conference
  • Student portfolios (one-inch view binders)
  • Students' stats sheet: list of student scores for early-year assessments
  • Descriptions of each teachers' focus and main teaching events so far on the stats sheet
  • Examples of students study in each learning area
  • Photos of signature events and projects
  • Students' selfie collages (Identity/Community-Building Project)
  • Offering a variety of times
  • Reflection pieces
  • Goal setting pieces
  • Evaluation pieces
  • Happiness survey
  • Lighten up the curriculum/instruction week to make time for student/teacher portfolio/conference prep
  • Timed once initial assessments are complete (after MCAS score arrival?)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lesson Leaves Something to be Desired

I've taught the same deep and complex concept many times before to many groups, and today I aimed to teach it again. The first approach I planned did not work. It was too complicated for the learners. In the past we taught this concept in December rather than October so students had a better foundation for learning this information. This year we're teaching it earlier. Plus, it's just a difficult concept, and as I planned it, it didn't match the learners' well.

No matter how often you teach, you'll find that lessons planned and the students in front of you will be a mismatch from time to time. I had the opportunity to teach the same lesson two more times today, and each time I adjusted the lesson to match the learners. The lesson got better and better and the match was closer and closer.

Only those who plan student-centered lessons each day, lessons that respond to a large array of expectations, know the range of extraordinarily powerful and terrific lessons to those lessons that fall flat. That's part of the teaching experience, a part of the experience that those who don't plan and implement lessons daily don't really understand.

Improving Education: Lifting Communities

How can we improve education in schools?

First, we have to analyze how we spend our time. It's my guess that in some schools, time is not targeted well with regard to what really matters when it comes to happy, successful students.

Next, we have to take a close look at our teaching/learning environments. Are those environments positive, welcoming, bright, and warm.

Further, we have to look at how the schools are staffed. Adequate staffing is imperative. Too many schools do not have enough staffing for adequate teaching and learning. Also, in too many schools there's a lopsided staffing situation where there are many leaders without significant time-on-task with students. Good teachers with substantial experience should be mostly directed towards working with students. There's no need for lots and lots of administrators. Instead, a hybrid model of teaching and leading can serve to forward programs and student success too.

Teachers' and students' voices and choices need to be elevated with greater focus on distributed models of leading and learning.

Every child should have access to the best tech tools and equipment. It's a crime if a child doesn't have worthy, regular access to technology in today's world. (of course in wealthy systems where there's small teacher-to-student ratios, there might be more opportunity to hold off on tech, but with the large numbers of students in public schools, having quality tech is like having lots of extra hands.)

Schools need to find ways to welcome families to the learning/teaching community in ways that matter. Every school has to look closely at this issue with close attention to the context of the community where their schools are located and the students that they teach.

After school and before school programs are advantageous to many students and their families. Schools should look for ways to partner with local after school and before school programs so that students that need these services have this opportunity including the needed transportation.

Healthy, happy students learn better. Every school needs to partner with local organizations so that the students they teach are receiving basic needs of adequate clothing, loving homes, nutritious food, good rest, and quality health care. If students are hungry, cold, tired, unloved, or unhealthy, they won't be available to learning. I believe that individuals, communities, and the state can continue to improve their efforts in this area. Sometimes superficial efforts in this realm may be embraced when what's needed is deeper, more coordinated, and strategic efforts to truly make change.

To improve schools teachers need to be involved in high quality professional learning, research, and development. When this work is just relegated to those at the top of the hierarchy, it's less likely to trickle down to the students and their families. While everyone is working to impart what they know now, they should also be working to develop schools, teaching, and learning in ways that are research-based and known to elevate student success, contribution, and capacity.

To invest time, money, intelligence, and care into our schools in every community is to lift communities, and to lift communities means greater happiness, less violence, and more success for all. Research demonstrates that this is the best investment communities can make as they think about betterment. Massachusetts has done a great job with this, and there's still room for good growth. What will be your first step in this regard?

What's Ahead? Mid-October 2017

As parent conferences near the last few meetings, I am thinking ahead to what we'll do as a grade-level team in the days ahead.

Place Value Learning Continues
Students and teachers will continue to focus on place value concept, skill, knowledge, and application. This study will include a unit one assessment next week, follow-up RTI efforts, and the start of place value unit two.

Facts and Math Skills
This will take on a more targeted effort in the days ahead with a lot of variety depending on students' skill, interest, time, and motivation.

Science Study: Matter
I'll dig into this unit in the week ahead and begin the teaching next week. I'm looking forward to implementing this new, high-interest curriculum unit.

Reading RTI
Our small group has only met once so far. I actually think this effort is too choppy at this point in the curriculum and believe it would profit from an everyday approach of some kind. I'd like to discuss this with my colleagues and see how we might change this in this in the years ahead to improve. One idea I've always wanted to foster at the elementary level is the use of advisories where every teacher is matched with a small social group and with that group they work on reading, writing and social competency. This all-hands-on-deck would include all available educators including special educators, teaching assistants, and classroom educators. Group numbers would differ dependent on needs and interests. In the meantime, I'll work with my RTI group to read and enjoy the book we're sharing.

Field Trips and Expert Visitors
There's work to do to solidify, plan, confirm, and prepare students for these valuable events.

Administrative/Organizational Work
There's lots of catch-up to do in this area. Yesterday students and I made a dent with regard to updating portfolios, collecting field trip forms, and arranging classroom materials and notices.

Professional Learning
A host of worthy learning opportunities have been shared with me, and this weekend I have to review those opportunities and figure out which ones will meet the learning/teaching progress I'd like to make on my own and with colleagues.

Rich Curriculum: Time to Teach?

We have a rich curriculum at our grade level. The curriculum includes lots of great writing projects, super reading efforts, engaging science/STEAM, eye-opening social studies, deep math, terrific specials, wonderful expert visitors/field studies, and thought provoking, life-leading social-emotional learning.

The challenge is meeting all those expectations/opportunities without overwhelming students--like too much of a rich cake, even if the curriculum is good, too much will weigh students down and then they won't feel good.

What's a teacher to do?

Healthy Routine
The weekly schedule and routine is critical with regard to this topic. If you work well to create a positive weekly routine, you can stay clear of overwhelming efforts and lead towards manageable, child-friendly teaching/learning.

Maximizing Supports
As I've noted time and again, we have substantial skilled support when it comes to teaching well. The key is to use those supports well. Once parent conferences and the first teaching unit are complete, I want to analyze our many supports, and work with colleagues to see how we might maximize those efforts to build more meaningful time-on-task with all students so that everyone has a chance to succeed with strength.

Extra Help Sessions
In my position as a mom of older children, I do have a bit more time than I had when I was a mom of young children. Therefore I can offer some before school and after school extra help sessions. I find that extra help allows many students to get the kind of help they need to secure concepts, skills, and knowledge. Due to a number of professional commitments, the times and days for this help will vary each week and be announced in the weekly newsletter.

Tech Use
There are many advantages of learning with technology. One is the quick feedback tech allows. Also tech allows concepts to come alive via animated models, games, and video. Targeted use of technology can help students to develop skill, concept, and knowledge in ways that matter.

Many students enjoy completing homework with friends. Creating at-home homework clubs or afternoons can support this kind of positive teamwork. The kinds of conversation that students engage in when they work together has been shown to improve academic growth and learning.

Creative Projects
When students have to analyze and apply concepts in creative ways, they learn more. Looking for opportunities to make the learning come alive will also support optimal learning/teaching. Creative projects and teaching also allow educators to synthesize many concepts, knowledge points, and skills together into worthy, interdisciplinary learning endeavor.

Enlisting Family Support
Families are the key ingredient to student success. Engaging families in the learning/teaching process builds student success in meaningful ways. In every context, this will look a little bit different, and that's why it is important for teaching/learning communities to discuss this topic and make decisions that help teachers and students reach prioritized goals.

Having a rich curriculum is the first step to optimal teaching and learning. The next step is figuring out ways to reach those worthy teaching/learning goals using a myriad of strategies--strategies that fit the schedules, context, and priorities of the community that you serve and lead.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Math Growth and Development

Last year about 92% earned state SGP scores of more than 50% while 8% had less than 50% growth. I am happy with these scores, and I am now looking at ways to continue the good growth and improve the areas where there was less growth.

What worked and what could be better?

The main ingredient to success was substantial numbers of invested and skilled family members and educators who supported students learning in deep and effective ways over many years. We had a lot of skilled support when it came to teaching our students last year and in years past. Those supportive and skilled individuals worked tirelessly with students with countless strategies to develop their skill, concept, and knowledge.

Another factor that led to successful growth was the use of good tech. We mainly utilized Symphony Math, That Quiz, Khan Academy, Google Apps and a few other games to develop student skills. Students who completed all of the grade level exercises on Khan Academy demonstrated substantial growth and overall terrific scores. At-home tech access also can be connected to good growth.

Factors that were connected to less growth included unexpected and expected struggles, and the lack of concerted, repetitious, and meaningful ways to deeply explore what was happening with students who struggled a lot--some students really struggle with learning, and those students require lots of skilled, targeted teaching and learning. When programs are too choppy and students are less known by educators, then success appears to wane.

As I move forward this year, I hope to continue the use of substantial skilled support, differentiated assignments, increased parent contact/communication, and multi-modal teaching/learning efforts. As for new efforts, I'll use the mini math booklet as a resource for families/students, offer extra help/coaching sessions, and advocate for more consistent and less choppy programs for some students. I'll also continue to advocate for Khan Academy which was an important took for success, and a tool that has been recently banned in our system. I will also continue the practice of lots of targeted teaching in a wide variety of ways.

Every year classes differ and so does success or lack of success on standardized tests. Substantial student support, time-on-task, and targeted, differentiated teaching and learning are elements that lead to success. We're on our way.

Today's Focus: October 18, 2017

Today's main focus is family-student-teacher(s) conferences. There are many conferences scheduled, and I want to focus on those.

The next main focus is student learning. Today students will take a mid-unit math test. They will practice test taking skills as they show what they know. I'll use the assessments to inform upcoming lessons and student coaching.

After that, students will engage in a workshop where they will have the opportunity to update their portfolios, complete overdue math pages, and catch-up with reading, writing, and online math assignments. Every so often, we need these catch-up and extra-help workshops to solidify the learning efforts introduced.

At the end of the day, we'll have a short team meeting and then students will continue their study of the play, In the Heights with our talented and knowledgeable librarian. A good day to come.

Continuing the Place Value Path

As noted before, I wish I had a couple more weeks to dig into this unit, but with time constraints imposed, I have to rush through it a bit. So today, students will take a mid-unit quiz which will give them practice with test taking and allow me to see how they do on initial unit concepts. It seems like many are ready for this, and for a few that don't seem ready, teaching assistants and special educators will work with small groups to use the mid-unit test as an opportunity for guided teaching and learning.

Tonight I'll review the tests, and tomorrow students will be introduced to the "behavior" of the base-ten place value system with video, models, and guided practice. We'll continue that guided practice on Friday, and then on Monday and Tuesday, students will have a chance to review and practice rounding. Next Wednesday students will have a chance to practice with an online TenMarks assessment and throughout the start of the week next week students' homework will include completing an online/offline practice test that will be due on Wednesday. Then on Thursday students will take the test in their one-hour core math blocks. Next Friday educators will use students' scores to create our first intervention groups (RTI) for deeper, more targeted study with regard to place value. Onward.

Family-Student-Teacher Conferences: Promises and Perspective

This week our grade-level teaching team has been hosting families and students to fall conferences. We invited students to come to these conferences, and students prepared showcase portfolios as vehicles for sharing, discussion, and goal setting for the conferences. When students attend the conferences, they take the lead by sharing their learning highlights. Throughout the twenty-minute (or so) conferences, questions and conversation continue, goals are set, and promises and perspectives are shared.

I typically share my parenting perspective which is "50% academics and 50% passion." I believe that positive investment in finding and developing children's passion is what opens doors, builds friendships, and develops confidence over time. At fifth grade, passion-finding/building includes trying out extracurricular activities, talking/reflecting about passions, and giving students time to imagine, play, and investigate their interests. In real-time, passion building might include playing an instrument, time to draw or write, attending acting classes, traveling, sports, or gardening. Good attention to passions, both individual interests and collective pursuits, leads to care and attention with regard to academic development.

Of course we focus on academic development too. Students share a few examples of their best work in reading, math, writing, science, social studies, and/or reading. I share their academic "stats sheets" which, at this time, included a reading words-per-minute score, reading accuracy score, reading comprehension score, math facts level, and math skills/concept/knowledge levels. The overall review led family members, students, and I to set goals including SEL, Math, and Literacy goals. With those goals came instructional promises and suggestions.

For example, in some cases where students' accuracy and comprehension are strong, but the fluency lagging a bit, I suggested the use of One Minute Reader, and promised to introduce students to that reading app that includes lots of interesting articles and exercises that build fluency as well as vocabulary, comprehension, and accuracy. I also recommended reading engaging child-friendly poetry repetitively aloud to family members as a way to build fluency. Many students made goals with regard to writing skill and fluency. For those students I recommended journaling online or off, and I recommended back-and-forth parent/family member-child journals where the adult writes a paragraph daily and the child responds back-and -forth over time with all kinds of light and deeper topics and think. Mostly to write better, one has to write regularly. Of course reading and instruction help, and that's recommended and practiced regularly at school and as part of daily home study.

Executive functioning is always a big part of teaching and learning conferences. For some students, it's still a challenge to follow a positive routine in school and at home. When family members and teachers offer opportunities to take responsibility and follow fairly simple and supported routines, we can support goals in this area.

The portfolios include happiness surveys, student's reflections, and photos too. The photos, in many ways, display the joy in learning that students experience with our most playful and investigative learning such as working with kindergarten buddies, building STEAM structures, and making solar ovens.

I continue to enjoy having conferences during a one-week period rather than spread over many weeks as I find that the whole team is talking about the same topics with all family members. This gives the team a chance to really listen and think deeply about the collaborative program we foster with and for students. Family-teacher-student conferences are essential components of of a positive teaching/learning program, a component that helps us to teach well and support students' current and long term success, contribution, and happiness. What other ideas and thoughts would you add to this reflection as I continue to think of this integral element of the teaching/learning year?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

SEL Goals: Develop Character

Students created three or four goals in the following areas:

  • Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Literacy
  • Math
For SEL, there were three main goal choices including the following:
  • Following Directions
  • Collaboration
  • Character
To be able to follow directions is essential in an open, learner-friendly environment. The directions are simple and typically focused on safety, collaboration, and learning. When students don't follow the simple directions set, they create havoc for themselves and the whole class. Hence, this is a primary school goal.

Collaboration is another primary goal. For some, simple collaboration of working together, sharing, and speaking with care and kindness is very difficult. This is also a vital goal for successful classroom learning. 

The third goal, is a lifelong goal, and that's building character. To build character takes time, explicit effort, modeling, and conversation. This will be a goal that the whole class shares this year, and we'll work towards meeting this goal with care in the days to come.

I'll add references to build this goal in the days ahead

Teach and Share What You Know

I noted exasperation as a person in the know dealt with a person not in the know--there was distance with regard to knowledge, and that distance created frustration.

Instead of frustration, I suggest that the person in the know make the time to teach rather than admonish the one who doesn't know. Knowledge, in many ways, is privilege, and one way to extend privilege to others is to extend that knowledge.

How might you do that in your own work?

First make your work explicit. The more you openly share the work and thinking you do, the more that others can learn from that work, and even better, the more that others can contribute their own knowledge and thinking to your work thus improving both your work and study as well as their's.

When and how has this happened in my own life?

It's happened with the college process. For my first child, I studies this process a lot, and then wrote a blog post about it. I share that post with many as a way to share what I learned. Many have shared their tips and knowledge with me as well. This share has happened informally through conversation and anonymously with threads such as College Confidential. This knowledge share has been very helpful with regard to helping my own children find colleges that were good fits for who they are as people and want they desired in a college experience.

This also happens all the time via writing and reading blogs, attending workshops and conferences, joining and getting involved in teaching/learning organizations, and via countless informal conversations and gatherings.

None of us have all knowledge. There's no way that people can know all that we expect them to know. So the goal should be to share what we know in ways that matter to lift the practice of all.

Goal Tending: Meeting the Year's Teaching/Learning Goals

I'm deeply focused on the two main goals I've set for the school year. One is a student learning goal, and the other is a professional learning goal. The goals have been relayed, signed off, and outlined for the good work ahead. What does this mean?

Yesterday I shared my goals, rationale, and action plan with my supervisor. Now I'll move forward with meeting those goals.

The first goal is to teach math so that the majority of students gain math mastery in all fifth grade standards. The action plan includes the following steps, steps which I'll track in the year ahead. 

Many of the steps for this goal were completed over the summer and during the first six weeks of school:
  • Begin year with a focus on team building, growth mindset, optimal learning-to-learn behaviors, and cultural proficiency with activities such as "What's Your Number?," "Birthday Graphs," "Jo Boaler Ted-Talk" since research shows that children who feel like part of the team and are welcome to the learning environment do better. Students completed this aspect of the learning. 
  • Assessment of 2016-2017 teaching/learning program with online learning data, MCAS, & unit tests looking for teaching/learning trends, successes, opportunities for change.  A good analysis of last year's program helps to better this year's program. Last year's program pointed to tremendous success and opportunity. Success demonstrated that our growth scores for the grade level were among he highest int he state, far above the state average, and the majority of our students met or exceeded proficiency with math standards. Opportunities lie in the work we do with high risk students in the NM and PM categories. Assessment complete.
  • Creation of data charts for 2017-2018 school year to track ongoing process. Charts made.
  • Give assessments to collect early year and ongoing data including Track My Progress, Symphony Benchmark, and Facts Assessment to inform instruction. Assessments given to all but newest students.
  • Introduce math tech use, reference, and study with the following Internet websites and pages: Math Tech page, Magnificent Math website, Learning Menu/Homework, TenMarks, Symphony Math, That Quiz, and an assortment of other approved standards-based math games and activities to support student independent and collective study at-home and in-school, and to serve as a family resource for all math learning and teaching. An infrastructure of online supports exist to help students and families access the curriculum and support student learning. 
These are the goal-steps that will make-up the mainstay of the goal tending throughout the year. 
  • Teach all standards outlined in systemwide Grade 5 Scope and Sequence with a differentiated and blended approach in engaging, empowering ways. This is the current focus with great attention to daily learning experiences. 
  • Work with grade-level team and cross-system educators/leadership to develop successful teaching/learning strategies to meet this goal including Response to Intervention (RTI) data meetings and teaching efforts. This is another current focus as we work to support our diversity of learners. 
  • Use of unit booklet approach to provide students and parents with a ready study guide of standards, vocabulary, unit concepts, skills, and knowledge for each unit. I am developing this approach this year to support student learning. 
  • Assess ongoing learning through a number of regular assessments including the following:  Track My Progress, Symphony Benchmark, Facts/Skills Assessments, and unit tests/quizzes to inform instruction. 
The second goal is to work with my grade-level team to develop our knowledge and efforts to teach in culturally proficient ways. 

We have already completed a number of steps related to this goal. As far as the research goes, w have tended to research on our own, then share the resources we've found with each other. The steps I've completed on my own or with the team so far include the following:
  • Wrote and received summer work funding for the three grade-level teachers to further research and plan an orientation list of events to support greater cultural proficiency for two days each. 
  • Research: Read Emdin's book, For White Teachers Who Teach in the Hood . . ., and embed research into teaching/learning program. 
  • Attending the yearly METCO Picnic.
  • Planned and attended an early-year orientation brunch for Boston resident students. 
  • Teaching/Learning: Planned and implemented a number of early-year, community building  culturally proficient learning/identity activities including the following:
    • Selfie Project: Project to share students' personal lives, interests, and experiences via collective project work and project displays.
    • Smile Video: a positive video which presented family members and students with a video snapshot of students' initial teamwork and shared learning.
    • Birthday Graph and What's Your Number Projects aimed at building community, students' knowledge of each other, early positive assessment of math attitudes/abilities, and positive relationships amongst students and teachers. 
    • Start of showcase portfolio efforts to help students build a practice of metacognition, self-knowledge, goal-setting, and self advocacy.
  • Invite students to take part in fall and early spring parent-guardian-teacher conferences.
  • History of People presentation to all classes which examines the evolution of skin shade, the history of learning, and obstacles that prevent learning. Specific attention to the fact that racism and prejudice of any kind is not allowed at the school. Signage that reiterates that message. 
Efforts that we'll engage in on our own and together in the days to come include the following:
  • More Research: 
    • Listen to Angela Watson podcast related to effective teaching of black boys:
    • Read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and embed Coates' insights into the teaching/learning program.
    • Use this article as a guide.
Culturally Proficient Teaching Leads to Equity
Classroom Efforts that will support this goal. 
  • Plan and attend special meetings for parents, new students and students who are distanced geographically from the school including extra-help sessions before and after school.
  • Plan and implement culturally proficient learning/identity activities throughout the year to build relationships, team, belonging, and success for all students including the following events:
    • Visit Harvard Peabody Museum to learn about the ancient culture of Mayans, and creation of culture flags to build identity and respect for individual and collective culture. 
    • In the Heights play attendance and related teaching/learning with regard to geography, privilege, power, and perspective. 
  • Specific attention throughout the year to teaching in ways that invite all children to belong to the teaching/learning community. Using Emdin's research as a guide.
  • Continue to plan a number of informal and formal reflections/assessments to understand what students need to inform the teaching/learning program.
  • Stay in regular contact with families through newsletters, the website, emails, phone calls, and meetings to build the capacity of the teaching/learning team with the goal of successfully welcoming every child and building his/her holistic success related to the learning/teaching program.
Fortunately our shared teaching model at fifth grade allows me the time and space to focus in on these goals with depth and purpose. I'm sure as time moves along, I'll use this blog post to collect evidence and guide my practice with respect to these goals. I like this ongoing way of working with goals in actionable ways. I'll add the link to this post to my ePortfolio for ready reference and updating.  In the meantime, let me know if you have anything to add.

Push Ahead or Not?

I wanted to push ahead with the unit today There's a very important concept to teach--one that takes good time and attention. Yet the students have to catch up, catch up with their practice and catch up with letting the initial concepts sink in with strength. Many distanced from the classroom forget the amount of practice and time good learning takes. Many still think that if you say it, students will learn it, but educators everywhere know that's not how good learning happens. Good learning is a multi-modal approach that requires hearing, seeing, talking about, engaging with, and thinking--it takes time to embed important learning into your brain and be able to apply that learning in meaningful ways.

So instead of pushing ahead as I had planned, we'll have a study day. I'll scaffold a host of study options and let students move ahead with those options. I'll help those with questions, and I'll encourage students to help each other too. They'll use their unit guides as practice guides. Tomorrow they'll practice again, and then on Thursday and Friday I'll introduce one new concept and Monday and Tuesday the next new concept. After that, and according to the pacing guide, students will be ready to take the test. We'll see how they all do.


Many educators are expected to follow strict pacing guides. The guides are based on no learners specifically, but instead on the content expected and the days that some, distanced from the classroom teaching, feel are a good match for teaching the material

This is a challenge for many teachers. For example I am currently teaching a deep and meaningful unit, one that demands good teaching and good time as the unit information lays the foundation for all later learning during the year. Yet the pacing guide does not give me the time I need to teach the unit well. Not only does the unit demand deep teaching, but the class I have also demands a lot of support in multiple ways, ways that take time. There have also been a lot of unexpected needs--needs not uncommon when you teach a large group of young children, but needs, however, that take time and demand attention. So what's a teacher to do?

I will do what I can to teach this unit well. I will rely on the help of family members, assistant teachers, specialists, and the children, and I will push the teaching through. What's difficult about this is that it's not good teaching, and it's teaching pushed ahead by those distanced greatly from me and my students. All that I've read and researched over the years tells us that good teaching involves teaching the students first and the curriculum next. Pacing guides are evidence of teaching the curriculum first, and the children second. Even Saul Khan has advocated for teaching the curriculum in deep and meaningful ways rather than rushing important concepts. In his TED Talk he discusses the residual affect of teaching too fast and without attention to solidifying foundation skills. 

Yet, this is the way it is in many American schools--a way that I believe has to change. Onward. 

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.