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Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Danger of Bringing School Home

All educators bring school home. We work diligently with children all day so we need time in the mornings before school and afternoons to digest all that we have done, reflect, and make plans for the next days' actions.

This homework can be troubling, at times, to family members and friends. They tire of our school speak and homework.

Educators have to be mindful of that in order to continue their good out-of-school relationships.

Yesterday I brought a school issue home. It upset the whole family. I wish I had the foresight to leave it at school. Lesson learned and shared. Onward.

Lack of Attention Leads to Problems

Often people like to bury problems rather than deal with them. Yet those issues only grow when met with a lack of attention or repeated similar behavior.

I ache when I see this happen.

For example, there has been a repeated action related to my effort. It has happened over and over again. Each time I worry, I get upset, I speak up, and each time there is no change or response. The action continues to occur. Recently I reached out to break this cycle, but my outreach was not well received. Now I realize I am powerless alone to break this cycle, and will seek to work with my union to look for ways to bring an end to this oppressive and demeaning cycle of professional effort. I will no longer try to go it alone which has been repeatedly unsuccessful in this sphere.

There have been other cycles that I'm promoted over time. There's one that I actually began to break recently--I found a way to change that cycle which I'm really happy about. There's more work to do, but the first change spells promise.

What problems of energy, inspiration, support, and effort exist in your teaching/learning environment? How can you proactively work on your own and with others to remedy those problems by working for good change and revolve?

Bringing problems sensitively out into the open can help to remedy those problems. Looking carefully at what is happening and why and working together to make good change and growth is ideal. This takes thoughtful, modern strategic work and thinking--the kind of effort that relies on all of our best efforts.

Problems deserve attention and time--when we embrace the promise that problems hold with good process, respect, and care for one another with an eye on the mission of our work, we will do well. Onward.

Putting a Challenging Week to Rest

On the child-front, it was an extraordinary week of teaching and learning. Our maturing spadefoot toads, the fifth grade play, biography research and study, STEAM survival activities, and more made it a tremendously, positive week of teaching and learning. TeamFive is a great team of students, family members, and educators--a learning community that works to support every member with strength, commitment, vision, and care. Amazing!

As I've mentioned before the work we do as part of the shared teaching model is the best teaching/learning environment I've ever worked in--the possibilities and current efforts are top-notch, and for that I'm grateful and inspired.

On the larger front of teaching and learning, there remains considerable challenge. Teacher voice and choice, transparent inclusive communication, and collaboration continue to be areas of great challenge near and far in teaching circles. We have a national government that appears to disregard the value a good education for every child holds, and the essential practices and supports that go along with that. We have local systems that are reluctant to modernize leadership models with distributive leadership, educator choice and voice, development of dynamic learning communities, and the supports that go along with that. Fortunately I note substantial good work at the state and union levels--support that is looking ahead with depth, mission, and good research to build strong, dynamic educational experiences for every child. I honor these efforts.

In light of this, what is a teacher to do? I say it to myself again and again, what I have to do is aline myself with those who truly support the good research and efforts related to teaching children well. I have to individually steer clear and jointly advocate against those people and policies that continually demean, disregard, and disrespect educators with poor communication, directives that don't include good research and teacher voice and choice, and lack of other supports that help us to do our jobs well.

This is easier said than done since my nature is to be trusting and to quickly turn the page and believe that people's efforts are well intended, inclusive, and inspired. Perhaps a good way to guard against this blind trust is to meet initiatives and requests with the following questions

  • Has this been a source of support or a support of disrespect in the past?
  • Is this an initiative that has its roots in good research and educator vision, voice and choice or is this initiative a surface-level act that's more representative of ambition than mission?
  • Is this an initiative where teachers will be well supported?
  • Is this an initiative that matches the mission I have chosen which is teaching children well?
Rather than get involved and upset with initiatives that don't support my central mission as an educator, these questions will help me to steer away from efforts that take substantial time, create havoc and trouble, and don't support who I am or what I can do as an educator. Onward. 

Advocating for Teacher Voice and Choice

Recently, in the teaching/learning community, there was a lot of struggle over teacher voice and choice. In a couple of areas where teachers were asked to voice their opinion and make choices, they were later not supported with regard to their research, vision, and will to teach well. Instead they were asked to do as they were told. This whole affair took a lot of time out of teachers' effort, energy, and autonomy, and was very discouraging. In fact it left me in tears yesterday afternoon.

In a number of areas, in the teaching/learning community, there is little to no voice and choice. I am spending more of my own money than ever to support the classroom with regard to materials, special events, and professional learning. The only good supports that honor teacher choice and voice are the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and the local grant organization. However, to submit a grant, the system administration has to sign off on it, and often they say no to my grant ideas so I often cannot submit grants to that organization due to the fact that administrators will not sign and submit my grant ideas. I expect that this happens to other educators too.

This is all very disconcerting as I am a teacher that believes in collaborative work. I hate to see large amounts of money spent on classroom supplies and materials without good process or teacher voice and choice. Over the years I have seen money wasted when this happens. Kits and other materials have sat dormant and never used because teachers were never in on the decision making from the start.

The best way to remedy situations like this is to create dynamic distributive leadership teams--the kinds of teams that do not solely exist on paper, but instead teams of teachers, students, family members, managers, and community members that truly work together to make wonderful teaching and learning happen. Yesterday we had a good meeting about an initiative like this, however, it appears that to make the idea happen the educators will have to finance the idea themselves--it will be expensive, and I will look for grants outside of the system to support it, but no administrator is willing to do the extra leg work to support the financial end of this idea, yet they are ready to agree with its rationale and result as they, like us, know it's good work.

The same is true for professional development. The best ideas I've brought back to the school house have been ideas from dynamic national conferences where really great people present and work with teachers, yet our system won't support my attendance at these conferences. A year ago my team received the honor of acceptance of our proposal and ability to present at a national math conference, but the system would not support the costs of attendance at the conference. We would have been able to present our good work, meet with dynamic math educators throughout the country, and bring back significant ideas, but this was not supported.

I am disappointed with the learning community's unwillingness to work with teachers to build greater choice, voice, and distributive leadership. Our management team is large in numbers and the way it works makes information distant from the daily work in classrooms and the needs and ideas of teachers and students. In many ways the information is like a game of telephone since by the time a teacher hears about an initiative, it has been passed down via multiple managers without any written reference so often no one hears the same information and everyone is confused. I have started watching the school committee meetings online to learn of initiatives and choices made for teachers, otherwise I would not know what is happening or going to happen as there is little to no transparent, inclusive share of information. Further, requests and questions, are often met with silence or derogatory responses which leave the impression that questions and share are not welcome.

Fortunately our union has just voted in a new structure for the implementation of new ideas, a structure that supports educators and administrative leadership collaboration and conversation. I look forward to the start of this new structure and know that if it is done well, it has the potential for significant change.

Choice and voice are essential to dedicated teacher/administrative/student/parent/community members teams. This kind of collaboration builds trust and results in really good modern work with students. When teachers lack choice and voice, communities are challenged when it comes to best possible teaching and learning. I will work with colleagues and my local union to support positive development in this regard. I look forward to the potential change this holds for me, my colleagues, and the work we can do with and for students and their families. Onward.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Forward Movement

Before the weekend starts, it's important to chart the course for after the holiday.

Completion of Math Assessments and Math Tech Expectations
Students are closing in on completion of the year's math assessments and tech expectations--that's the first priority on the return to school.

STEAM Study
We've got a number of projects to do.

Biography Projects
Students research every day and work on their presentations.

Spadefoot Toads
Our tiny endangered toads are full of sprite--soon they'll be placed in their new habitat.

Boston Tour
We'll hike the streets of Boston and learn all about our country's history.

Great Meadows
We'll explore a wetlands nature preserve and engage in a number of nature studies.

Field Day
Students will focus on teamwork as they play a large number of engaging outdoor games.

Visiting the Middle School
Children will get a nice introduction to the school they'll attend next year.

Progress Reports/Test Correction/Project Comments
We'll put the finishing touches on the year's academic reports.

Fun Day/Slideshow/Clap-out
Children will enjoy a celebratory day.

There won't be a dull day.

Let Children Be Children

I wonder why we sometimes direct children to be little adults rather than the young children they are. Childhood is truly an amazing stage of life. Lately I've been doing a lot of observing on our playground and it's been wonderful to listen to children's imaginative stories, watch them observe and carefully play with many insects crawling on trees, sheds, and grass, splashing in water, playing with mud. building a fort, swinging, playing sports games, doing gymnastics, climbing on the playground structure and more. The whole time they're working with strategy, imagination, exploration, communication, problem solving, and creativity--it's truly amazing! There are so many smiles.

I decided that I'm not going to make any big decisions in the next few weeks, and instead focus solely on the children as we carry out the many end of the year celebratory learning projects, special events, and presentations. I want to let children be children.

This was so evident today as I watched children taking care of our little tadpoles and tiny toads. Again it was evident as they problem solved in math and asked many questions. Further when they worked on their biographies, it was wonderful to talk about and research famous global change makers through a child's perspective and questions.

It's time for the long weekend, and next weekend I'll return to the world of children I live in during the day time hours five days a week.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Day by Day: End of May 2017

Tomorrow teachers will discuss the potential of offering an orientation at the start of the year to welcome many students into the school year. Meanwhile students will work on a math tech list and math tests. There will be biography study and observing the tadpoles that are quickly turning into tiny toads. Then it's time for the Memorial Day break. Onward.

Teachers Evolve and Change

As we teach, we evolve and change.

Sometimes I think back to moments of teaching I regret--moments when I didn't know better. I think, How didn't I know what to do or Why did I do that? Yet, as in any profession or in parenting, we do not always make the best decision--we err, and hopefully learn from it.

With the substantial respect, positivity, listening, and an eye on betterment, we have to make amends and move forward when we err--we won't always know it all, and we will make mistakes.

The truth is that teachers evolve and change over time, and hopefully that evolution is for the better. That's not to say that new teachers don't bring value to the schoolhouse--new teachers bring incredible energy, positivity, new knowledge, and wonderful perspective. I think schools profit greatly from having teachers that represent a mix of experience who regularly collaborate and work together to serve children well.

What's most important in this evolution and change is the chance to collaborate, share ideas, debate, and discuss direction, practice, and professional learning. We do best if we lead each other forward always with the children and their family's best interests in mind. Good teams and good culture care for one another.

If you're a good teacher, you're not the same teacher you were yesterday. Instead you are continually evolving and doing to do better and better work by each and every student. Onward.

Collaboration is Key

As I ponder the challenges and potential that exist, I recognize that good, positive collaboration is key. This is something good to strive for.

"Gotcha"

One never wants to be the teacher who has the "gotcha" attitude--the one who creates an environment waiting for a child to fail. You don't want to be an antagonizer who tests students and makes life difficult for them. I have to say this is an attitude I rarely to never see in schools--almost every teacher I work with tries to create situations that invite students' best effort and success.

Sometimes, however, there will be situations where someone is just waiting for a learner to fall. They sit in the stands watching keenly looking for error. This kind of attitude makes everyone uncomfortable.

Instead I much prefer direct, straight talk about issues and error--the kind of talk that deals explicitly with what's happening and what could change for the better. I don't believe in "gotcha," but instead "let me help you--what can I do to make things work well for you."

Taffy

Image Reference


I feel a bit like taffy as I'm pulled in multiple directions.

What's a teacher to do?

It's time to narrow the path a bit and prioritize more.

As I think of this, I am imagining that big vat of Taffy In Provincetown--the colorful, sticky candy that's stretched and pulled in so many directions resulting in a small bites of chewy sweetness.

We all feel like taffy from time to time, and that's when it's time to focus your attention in ways that matter.

Are We Owed an Answer?

If we ask a question, do people have to answer?

I actually don't think there is any law about answering questions.

In most cases, people don't have to answer--they can stay silent.

However, when one asks a question, we do well by the inquirer to answer his/her question with care unless that question gets into a personal sphere, one where you have the right to privacy.

When people don't want to answer questions, we have to wonder why?

Why would they not answer?

Is it inertia, worry, annoyance, time, interest, focus?

How can we ask questions in ways inspire people to readily answer, respond, and converse about the matter in question? What would help in this situation?

I will think more on this topic in the days to come.

Coaching Forward with Positivity and Encouragement

When we meet challenges on the teaching/learning road, we can turn those challenges into lessons on how to work with greater care and effort.

Recently I felt quite demeaned in an educational effort. That kind of feeling does little to support good work and effort. As I think of that, I recognize how we have to steer clear of discouragement and silence when working with our young learners, and instead move towards empowerment and meaning. Our classrooms are not about us as educators, but instead all about our learners--it's their learning-teaching environment, and we are the guides, coaches, mentors, and fellow learners that support their teaching/learning road.

An important consideration on this path is good rationale. Typically when we give learners and collaborators good rationale for efforts we're engaged in, there is buy-in, support, and positivity. When a good, meaningful, and understandable rationale is missing, that's when collaboration wanes.

We can ask, what is the rationale for this choice, and how does that rationale empower our mission and vision with regard to teaching students well?

It's also important to provide vision, to let learners know what the goals are and where we are headed. It's even better if those goals and vision are co-created with the collaborative group? Where do we want to go and why?

What is our long-term vision, and what goals are we reaching for as individual educators and educational teams?

Further, we don't have to all take the same path to get where we are going. There are always multiple good paths to learning and teaching. Positive learning and teaching is not a one-size-fits-all-path, but instead a personalized journey that includes collaboration with others, the use of good tools and resources and continual analysis, reflection, and revision as we move towards those meaningful goals.

What paths are we creating, designing, and following to reach vision, mission, and goals? How do our varied paths support learners?

I work with a diverse group of learners young and old. All of those learners and me will continue to navigate the terrain as we move forward in ways we hope to be meaningful, enjoyable, and productive for ourselves and others. We do best to encourage and support one another with rationale, goals, vision, and access to the paths that matter in this regard. It's also best to, as much as possible, remove the obstacles that hinder the journey in order to make the journey doable and positive. Onward.

Today's Focus: May 25, 2017

Today students will show what they know on the final systemwide assessments. They've studied and practiced the material and now they'll be able to demonstrate their abilities. I'll use the tests to help me complete students' standards-based progress reports.

Students will also work a lot on their biography research and presentations.

Later in the day, we'll have some time for science study too as we prepare for our first STEAM activity.

It will be a good day ahead. Onward.

A Structure for Evidenced-Based Advocacy

To advocate is to convince.

To convince often requires evidence.

 I quickly trust my instincts since I read a lot and follow many terrific educators. I have a good internal sense of where the world of learning and living is going, and understand what we need to do to match our educational efforts to that forward moving stream. Some efforts that I know will be integral to the future and should be integrated well into education today include the following:

  • More real-world, collaborative, meaningful floor-to-ceiling, interdisciplinary math explorations
  • Greater use of coding and 3D models and learning efforts
  • Greater awareness, appreciation, and care of the natural world
  • Greater integration of all SEL skills/efforts to develop strong emotional intelligence and a rich sense of well being. This includes the development of leadership and advocacy skills.
  • Meaningful, real-world STEAM study
  • A sense of history and understanding of social studies, and the ability to read and compose with meaning and effect.
  • Greater use of collaboration and teamwork of all stakeholders to move school systems forward in ways that matter for all stakeholders
  • Development of modern-day learning/teaching environments
I can work with all of these areas in my daily work with students. Currently this work is done well with my grade-level team, but I'd like to develop my ability and access with the greater team in this regard. I know that greater avenues of positive collaboration and share will grow these efforts with even greater strength. I am looking for ways to do this in the days ahead, and look forward to this progress. 

One way to reach this progress is to foster greater evidenced-based advocacy for efforts that matter. To do this, I'll begin to think specifically about the main areas of interest with regard to teaching/learning development and evolution. Then I'll begin collecting anecdotes, research, and evidence to support the development of those areas. After that I'll use that evidence to advocate through grants and writing for greater growth and development in those areas. Onward. 

Coaching Myself Forward: May 2017

Yesterday I was upset over a decision related to choosing a cabinet--seems so silly, but it is relatively small matters where lack of choice and voice reign that upset me. I spend a lot of time researching and designing the learning environment, and when my research is not regarded or discussed with respect, I feel devalued.

I feel the same way when it comes to Minecraft. I know that this 3D platform is a beloved platform for students, and I also know that the ability to create and learn in 3D is essential for the modern world. I see my wealthy students using this tool regularly at home and I notice the impact it has on their learning. I also notice that students who may not have the means, at times, do not have the chance to learn in this way. I worry that this early separation of opportunity will translate to a later widening gap in achievement, interest, and ability with technology, creativity, and innovation. I'd like to integrate Minecraft into the curriculum in some ways to mitigate this, but this is not allowed at the present time.

I also feel this way about SCRATCH which I believe is an important medium for greater thinking and learning. Further, I'd like to re-look at the amount of testing we do--I think we do too much paper/pencil testing and could modify that to leave more time for meaningful hands-on exploration, projects and teamwork with regard to learning. I worry that we are losing time when it comes to innovation and growth because so much exploration is not supported in the system--exploration and innovation that is being embraced by many school systems all over the country.

I have lots of ideas about how to move teaching forward in ways that matter. I value the lead time and good discussion needed to work on issues like this, yet I haven't found the best way to forward this kind of discussion with managers who currently appear disinterested in working with me in this regard. My experience shows that transparent, inclusive, and regular communication truly supports deep and rich teaching/learning. The lack of regular communication and lead time can stymie this depth and the potential possible.

Recently I reached out to foster a conversation to lead to better collaboration, research, and development. That may be a positive step.

I don't want to continue to run on the "hamster wheel" in some spheres of efforts that go nowhere, but instead I want to utilize good advocacy and effort to move ideas, activities, and good research forward.

Areas where I would like to move my work forward include the following:
  • Inclusion of Boaler's research in the math program with greater floor-to-ceiling explorations and project work
  • Greater intersection of science and other disciplines with math to make math learning meaningful and successful. 
  • Greater inclusion of STEAM and science learning with the natural environment around us with a focus on developing positive, proactive Earth stewards.
  • The ability to integrate a greater focus on theme at the grade level in order to deepen our learning and teaching.
  • Growth of SEL efforts \by integrating those efforts into all discipline areas and effort.
I enjoy the deep think that goes along with teaching well. I also enjoy discussing that deep think with colleagues and others as we work to teach children well. I want to understand why some do not respond to ideas and questions, and why others may not support teachers' research and requests. I want to understand this well so I can work with it without stress or upset.

Many urge me to follow my path without including those who are uninterested, yet I know it takes a solid team effort to really do the good work possible, and that's why I persist. Onward. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Communication?

 "Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing."  Rollo May

I analyzed a host of emails sent tonight and recognized that some emails were answered quickly and others were never answered. Why the difference?

I found, in general, if email questions were fact based and procedural, they were answered quickly, and if questions or share was deeper, it was generally ignored.

The bigger issues were probably ignored because they took too much time to read or because the reader wasn't that interested in the topic.

This observation makes me ask, "What is good communication, and how do we foster this with one another."

In general, I believe, that open, honest share and communication is best. The more transparent you are, the better  your communication will be.

Communication is integral to good teams and effort. It's important to analyze communication patterns often to make sure they are working well.

Breaking a Negative Cycle

A colleague suggested a negative cycle was at play.

Then I read an article about breaking negative cycles. This quote from the article struck me, "If we want to make real changes—lasting changes—we’ve got to go deep to make them."

So I as I go deep, I am asking the following questions.

First, what is the idea. In this situation, the idea is a positive evolution towards best possible learning and teaching. Ideally this would be fueled by ongoing research, analysis, reflection, discussion, debate and collaboration. The work would be inclusive, transparent, and oriented toward mutual goals. 

Next, what is the current situation. The current situation finds me in a place where there is little collaboration, idea discussion/exchange, understanding, or shared effort. There is no apparent sense of team and seemingly little respect. It simply doesn't feel good, and the fact that it's not good, quality collaboration and conversation hinders the potential that exists.

Third, what will take us from where we are to the ideal? Here are some possible steps.

  1. Acknowledge what it is you wish for, and ask the others if they share this goal. Listen to the way their goals are similar and different from yours.
  2. Discuss the difference between goals and process.
  3. Discuss protocols and efforts going forward.
A negative cycle serves no one well. These cycles start for all kinds of reasons, and after substantial repetition, it's hard to remember why the cycle started, but the cycle itself becomes negatively ingrained.

Going deep means taking apart the cycle by finding out why it happens and how it can be changed. I believe it's worth the time. 



Lack of Choice and Voice Hinders Potential Possible

It still puzzles me why teachers in classrooms have little choice and voice when it comes to classroom needs and teaching initiatives. I wonder why those who lead us wouldn't take seriously our point of view, research, and experience when it comes to forwarding curriculum and teaching efforts. The lack of choice and voice truly demeans teachers and makes most of us feel like peons, robots, and do-its, not the professionals we've trained to be.

I've spoken up about this time and again only to be told to back down, stay quiet, and do as I'm told. Yet research points to the need for educators to play an integral part in the work they do to serve children well.

I need my job and I will do what I'm told as long as it doesn't harm children, but I know that I could do a much better job if I had greater voice and choice over how I do my work. This is a main concern that educators in many school settings face. The remedy to this is to modernize leadership models, system structure, and the use of distributive leadership to better what we can do as collaborative learning/teaching teams made up of all stakeholders: students, family members, educators, administrators, and community members. Onward

Consistency versus Change

As I did a bit of work to prepare for move-up day and next year's class, I recognized the power of consistency. Knowing that I'll be working with the same team and relatively same program, offers me and my team a chance to build and develop what we can do for children.

The role of consistency like ours is valuable to good school programs. Too many changes at too rapid a pace can disrupt an environment so that good, rich development does not occur.

On the other hand, sometimes change is just the right choice too. Yet, too many changes, or changes without inclusive, transparent share and collaboration can hinder good progress. Change needs to occur with a thoughtful eye on what is best for the learning community. It should not be a knee-jerk reaction.

There were a few years there where my grade level and position was changed every one or two years--that truly was disconcerting and difficult when it came to deep, positive collaboration and program development. I think that educational leadership has to be very careful about the decisions they make about teacher and team changes, and as much as possible, those decisions should not be done to teachers but instead be a collaborative decision involving all stakeholders.

Good education evolution includes the right mix of consistency and change. That mix is one best determined by inclusive, strategic decision making processes that include all stakeholders--that is a good direction with which to build strong teaching/learning organizations.

Apres Play Focus

The school play was sensational, and I know that the children will be weary today due to the fact that they gave the performance their full attention and energy. Also the evening performance meant late nights for all.

Today students will return to their rotations routine of moving from class to class as they work on the biography project and focus on end-of-year math program requirements.

Math
Students will work online using a math learning menu to complete a number of expectations. Tomorrow and Friday, they'll complete the end-of-year systemwide assessments, and then most math will become part of our STEAM study.

Biography Project
Students will work on this effort in a large variety of ways in the days ahead.

Human Body Systems: Changing Bodies
In fifth grade, students learn about puberty and changing bodies as well as an age-appropriate introduction to the reproduction system. We share the information with parents ahead of the unit so that parents can provide students with a preview, ask question, and if desired, opt out of the school-based program for their children.

STEAM: Naturalist Thread
Our STEAM projects will connect with the fifth grade play, Cap Runamuck, and take on a naturalist thread as students investigate and design for safe living and exploring in the outdoors. That thread will culminate with an outdoor adventure.

Queen of Katwe
Throughout the year the students watch films that help to broaden their world view, understanding, and perspectives. When there's an opportune time, we watch sections of each film. Right now we are watching The Queen of Katwe at the recommendation of a student. This film, like the others we have watched is broadening students world view in important ways. I want to remember to use Close Captioning with films as it truly helps students' reading and understanding.

More Celebrations
Students are readying for their instrumental performance that will occur soon, Field Day, field trips, and other important end-of-year events.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Together We Do Better

When we reach out to work with others and enlist their ideas and consult, we do a better job. Those that lead without this kind of intersection do not do as well as those that reach out to find out what everyone thinks.

Fifth Graders Shine


Our wonderful fifth graders shined tonight as they presented their second performance of the fifth grade play, Camp Runamuck.

The play gave every child an opportunity to shine, and they demonstrated their talents in so many ways through speaking, singing, playing instruments, dancing, martial arts, gymnastics, jokes, and more. It was fantastic.

When we attend to school programs with care we hold so much potential for what's possible for each and every child.

It was such an uplifting night, thanks mainly to our talented music teacher and our invested, dedicated, creative, and caring fifth graders and their families. Terrific!

We Can Do It Better

Betterment signals stress to some. They see better as the addition of more work, change, and the potential for failure. They would rather stick with what we have, than make change.

Making things better takes time, transparency, inclusion, and good process--it's not a simple matter, but it can be wonderfully transformative and positive for any social group or organization.

When seeking betterment, it's best to see it as a team sport, one that includes the voices and choices of all stakeholders. Betterment profits from collaboration though a spirit of competition when used well can sometimes energize efforts to make things better. Competition, however, when used poorly can hinder, halt or destroy efforts for betterment.

Without good process, betterment efforts can actually create the opposite effect. Those seeking better may hurt relationships, waste important resources and time, miss important voices, and ill-direct efforts if they don't make the time to identify good strategic process--the kind of process that's inclusive, transparent, and goes full circle or spiral from start to finish(es).

The desire to do it better doesn't mean that you're not already doing a good job, it simply means that you want to evolve practice to well match the latest research, potential, interest, and need.

For example, my students are doing well, overall, with regard to learning math, however there's definitely room for betterment as we strive to include new research and integrate the learning/teaching methods with other content standards and goals. For example, I'd like to fuse some fraction study with states of matter study--the two make a natural pair when good process is used.

How we use time affects betterment too. When big ideas are entertained regularly, those ideas begin a life of their own. Idea development requires time to ponder, create, discuss, and debate. When given good time, good ideas grow with strength.

We can do it better is a call that helps to forward the best of what we can do, and a good all to embrace together as we go forward with our commitment, investment, and good work.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Finding A Place of Peace to Create and Teach

I intersect with many people everyday. At any given moment in the school day I'm typically working with groups of 25 or so teachers and students--that's a lot of people and a lot of potential too.

Often my creativity is met with disdain in the schoolhouse as there are many that prefer that I remain silent and do as I am told rather than working creatively and collaboratively to develop craft and better what I can do on my own and what we can do as teams of teachers, students, family members, and colleagues.

I have to distance myself from the naysayers, the ones who meet every idea with negativity and a closed mind. I have to find a place where I can work with my allies towards betterment with positivity and care. Yes, detractors are important and play a "sandpaper" role at times refining and challenging your work, but too much negativity can truly kill your spirit, dwarf creativity, and waste lots of precious time.

So I guess one way to move away from the sources of great negativity and trouble is to see my classroom as a studio--a center of design, learning, creativity, and collaboration. I can continue to build that small community of inside/outside spaces into a rich learning environment--a place where children have a home away from home to learn in incredible, positive ways.

Fortunately I have an awesome team to work with too and that team is located in the same part of the school as my classroom so there is a rich resource of positive collaboration and creativity there--that's terrific. Further there are many outside of my school who are also ready and willing to share, create, and collaborate via multiple online and real time venues.

When the negative forces arrive, I'll simply them for what they are--the pin in the balloon that has the potential to burst good work and positive endeavor. I'll save my energy for the creativity, potential, and promise that exists. Onward.

Twitter Ribbons: Favorites Streams and Intersections


I want Twitter to create Ribbons. 

Essentially Ribbons are threads of Favorites.

When you favor a tweet, you add it to a Ribbon.

Later, you can revisit those Ribbons--Ribbons related to areas of study, cooking, crafts, travel. . . .

You will be able to intersect your Ribbons too.

You can sort your Ribbons alphabetically, by date, tweeter and more.

I know this ideas has potential to develop Twitter more. What do you think.

Ideas: Troubling Yet Noteworthy

It was thought provoking to see ideas shared at a meeting that led to great debate later show up on a list of important challenges.

At first when the ideas were expressed, those ideas were expressed with the a response that likened the ideas to ridiculous and not worthy of discussion or debate. Now, many months later, the same ideas have shown up on an administrative report as an area of worthy concern.

This is often the way it is with good ideas and meaningful work. At first, no one wants to talk about it--they see it as "ridiculous," but after some thought, people then begin to embrace the ideas with strength--they see the worth.

Many years ago I heard of an idea like this at a national conference. I brought it back, and after some discussion, others embraced the idea and began to build upon it. That idea and its personalization found its way onto the administrative list too as an accomplishment.

Good ideas take on a life of their own. To truly maximize those ideas it is important to allow all stakeholders to stay abreast of and contribute to the idea's growth and development. Good ideas truly don't belong to any one of us and good ideas are at their best when they receive the investment, analysis, and development by all. Again, we do better, together.

I get discouraged because I am often chided for the new ideas I bring to the table. "We can't do that?" "Your ideas create tension." "You have too much to say and share." are the types of phrases I often here and am criticized for. Yet, then, later when I read reports of the year's good work those ideas I was originally chided for have found their way into the report in some shape or form.

Now I recognize that the ideas are not my ideas alone. It seems that when good ideas are voiced, they are typically taking on life with many educators and in many venues. We see this all the time on Twitter with similar ideas shared at same times. Yet, I think that those who decry and demean new ideas at the onset have to think twice about doing this, and instead of putting down new ideas and those that have them, instead work with idea-people to support and develop new ideas with the team.

Right now there are a number of new and old ideas, I plan to work on with my colleagues including the following:
  • Deeper Learning Child Study--This was born out of a talk by David Johns at the NBPTS Conference in DC a few years ago. The idea continues to be developed in the system where I work. 
  • Renewed Student Orientations - My team is working with this idea to develop our ability to support students and family members with regard to academic success beginning right away in the school year.
  • Mindset - The system I work in is building their ability to develop and apply positive mindsets and efforts with regard to all areas of study and learning. I look forward to applying some of the ideas the system is forwarding in this area--ideas related to SEL, home study, and more. 
  • Greater Cultural Proficiency - I will continue to work with my team to look for ways to develop our programs, teaching, and routines to become more culturally proficient. 
  • Math Teaching/Learning - STEAM Curriculum Efforts - there's more work to do to continue to grow and deepen these areas of teaching and learning. I've written quite a bit about this in the past months as I set goals for summer study.
It's too bad that some see ideas as having ownership or as currency when it comes to teaching/learning competition. I prefer to see ideas as rich resources that become richer and better when we share and develop those ideas with others. I'll work to forward that thinking and activity in the days ahead.

A Good Day in May

The students had a wonderful practice today then we worked on math and watched the end of The Secret Garden, one of the classic films I show each year.

We're keeping the classroom peaceful since tomorrow students will put on two play performances--one during the day and one in the evening. We want them to be well rested and ready to give their best performance.

Another happy event is that our little tadpoles have sprouted legs--it's fun to watch them get use to moving with their tiny legs. These froglets still have tales. Tomorrow we'll spend a bit of time, perhaps, studying the tiny amphibians.

Wednesday, after the play, we'll be back to our typical routine.

Take the Lead: Be Proactive

A few troubling comments were shared with me recently.

I was taken back and upset.

I've thought a lot about this and have reached out for professional advice.

I support respectful conversation, discourse and debate. I believe our organizations are stronger when information is transparent, open, and readily shared.  I worry when questions are met with disregard, silence, and negativity. I am similarly alarmed when people are unwilling to discuss or debate sensitive issues related to the good work possible in schools.

I will continue to read and think about this issue as I await the professional consult I seek.

In the end, it's my goal to teach well and do what I can to serve students, family members, colleagues, and community members well. Onward.

Oh Woe is Me

"No one likes a martyr," a relative would say whenever I suggested injustice. It was frustrating to hear that again and again, but I used the comment as reason to try to complain less.

Better than the phrase above, I think it would have been helpful to dissect problems and see the potential in the problem by planning an action plan.

The same relative would say that "You can't complain unless you are part of the solution." This phrase has helped me to always match problems with solutions--"Here's the problem," I think and "How can I help to solve it."

As I contemplate a recent, troubling incident, my relative's remarks come back to me. First, it's true no one likes an everyday martyr, yet problems do exist and we can't ignore them. Problems like the one recently experienced are small in the face of the huge problems that exist in lives, yet small problems can become big problems if we don't deal with them. Hence, seek the promise in the problem and decide how you are going to be part of the solution.

The solution with the problem above lies in these actions:

  • Careful listening and note taking
  • Speaking up when stories and words are misrepresented and shared
  • Keeping a paper trail of exchanges and efforts
  • Awareness of rules/laws related to idea share, free speech, opinions, and desire for betterment
  • Reaching out for clarification

Know Your Supporters

Moving ahead in education, I want to be cognizant of those who support my efforts and good work with honesty, care, and thoughtfulness. I want to steer my teaching/learning ship in that direction.

I also want to be cognizant of those that do not support the work I do with care, but on the other hand, stymie and confuse that work with undue criticism, dishonest rumors, little effort, an unwillingness to entertain or listen to new ideas/answer questions, and inaccurate reporting of information and events.

Those who don't support you will often work to undermine and demean you. It may take you a while to recognize those efforts, but after a time, you'll recognize a thread of activity that adds  up to disrespect and lack of support.

In the face of efforts like this, it's important to shore up your own work to make sure that you are supportive to others in ways that are fair, honest, and worthy--this is an important and critical aim with regard to work in any field.

You also have to keep good notes of what happens, when, and why. For example recently I asked a simple question, and when the question was repeated to me from another source, it was a much different question. Fortunately I have the original email on file if the question is brought up again.

None of us are perfect and we all have our areas of strength and our areas of challenge. Further each of us, if it is important to us, is developing our work and craft all the time. It is important to stay cognizant of this as we support one another with our best effort and energy. Some will not care about you at all--they will not support you. It's important to recognize this as you do your work.

Though worrisome, this is a reality that exists, and one that sadly stands in the way of the good work possible when educators work together to do what is right and good for children.


A Game of Telephone

I put forth a simple request.

The request was responded to in time with additional requirements.

I completed the requirements and fulfilled the effort.

Later, I heard about this exchange with a very different story--one that was disconcerting and worrisome.

Like a game of telephone, the story started as a simple exchange and ended up as a troubling event. What was lost in translation?

Transparency, questioning, and clear information shares delete games of telephone that exist in organizations and replaces those confusing trails of information with clear, honest speak and share.

If you face those who prefer telephone to transparency, then it's important to keep good notes of events and put questions and ideas in writing--that is much more clear than a a game of talk tag where the words morph at each exchange.


Information Wall

I heard a story about an information wall--a human-made obstacle to good information share that created havoc.

As I listened to the story, I thought of ways to break down that information wall.

First, it's critical to create websites with essential information that are easy to access at anytime of day or night. In the story I read about, the information was difficult to access. Recently a colleague created a website to support our systemwide work with MCAS. I consulted that website daily as I proctored the test and navigated the school computers and systemwide infrastructure and MCAS routine. The website saved me time and helped me to do what was right in view of the tests. If there had been a well designed, easy to access website related to the story above, the havoc would not have occurred.

Next, information needs to be easy to read and understand. Too often those who create documents related to their field of expertise forget that they are communicating with people in other fields who are less familiar with the material. People have to make time to make information simple to access, read, and understand.

Also, information requirements should be easy to complete. Many documents in our system can be completed online in short time. This is positive and should lead the way for others to make information easy to access, complete, and turn in. One great app to support this kind of work is DocHub which allows you to fill out any form online and then immediately send that form into the location that requests the form.

Further there should be sensitivity to people who work away from good phone or tech access during the day. Elementary school teachers have little to no time during the day to do personal business--our jobs are very active as we work with and for young children. People who work with elementary school teachers have to be mindful of this, and perhaps need to schedule events on weekends, in the evenings, or better yet, during a scheduled release time or professional day to ensure that teachers have the time to access the needed information.

Information walls in any field create havoc and block the promise and potential possible. As much as possible we have to take down those walls by making information easy to read/understand, accessible, and timely.

At the grade level we do this with our TeamFive website, weekly newsletters, calendar, and email response--we work to serve students, colleagues, and family members well by anticipating information needs and seeking the best ways to communicate.

Our local union does the same with our union website and regular newsletters. We have many pages on the website to support teacher questions and needs. I can imagine that we will even add more pages in the days ahead as questions arise.

Timely calendars also help, and when possible, if calendars can be shared with individuals with plenty of lead time, that too helps to deconstruct information walls and obstacles.

In general, people profit when information is forthcoming and understandable while information walls stymie good work and create frustration, confusion, and a waste of time.

Why Change is Slow to Occur in Schools?

There's the popular joke that Rip Van Winkle wakes up and the only institution he recognizes is school because it hasn't changed that much.

I was reminded last night about why schools are slow to change.

First, change is messy--it's not a neat, happy set of steps. Instead worthy change creates debate, discussion, and disruption. Similarly, to forward change is to navigate an unpredictable, sometimes tense, path. Yet, if we don't change, and things stay the same, we won't do the good work possible--good work prompted by new research, tools, and knowledge.

Next, change challenges the status quo which makes people uncomfortable. If you've always done it a particular way, you may not be open to a new way.

Change also requires good strategic process. Too often people want change to be quick and easy, but that kind of worthy change is rare--instead good change depends on transparency, inclusion, debate, discussion, reflection, and analysis. That takes time.

Change requires the voice and choice of all stakeholders--change by some for others also is never as rich as change that's supported and forwarded by all stakeholders.

I believe that schools won't change much until we embrace new models of distributive leadership and systematic work. Same structure will not produce new results.

I'm sure that there are many more reasons why schools are slow to change, but as I think this morning, these are the obstacles that arise.

Fuel?

It was good to wake up to Godin's post, Choosing Your Fuel, this morning. Godin notes that "The fuel you choose. . .determines how you will spend your days." and he lists a number of fuel sources by Richard Fenyman. As I look over the list, I choose the following fuels:
  • Big Dreams - I know what's possible in education, and I want to move in that direction with my work and effort.
  • Connection - I choose this because I hope "others will join me" since together, we do better.
  • Creative Itch - yes, "the voice inside. . .wants to be expressed."
  • Dissatisfaction - I know we can do better
  • Generosity - I like contributing
  • Professionalism - because it is what good educators do
  • Meaning - I want to do work that has meaning and makes a difference
Moving ahead in my field, education, is not always easy, but I am committed to continuing to hone my craft and do the best possible job with the work I do with and for children, their families, and colleagues. Onward.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Detour

I need lots of good energy this week as it's the fifth grade play--a big moment for the wonderful fifth graders.

I need to give them all I've got, yet I just received a big detour which sunk my energy, challenges my spirit, and is causing me to stay up way past my bedtime.

What's a teacher to do?

First I'll steer clear of all detractors in the days ahead--I don't need that right now.

Next I'll focus in on what I can do and that's to cheer the students along for their big night.

And I'll do what I can to finish the year with strength and positivity--summer will lend a new reprieve.

Finally I'll take the lessons learned via this path and keep them with me as I navigate next year's teaching road.


Clarity

For a long time, I gave that situation the benefit of the doubt, but now it's clear that there isn't a shiny side to that coin--it's one dark situation.

There's little need to enter that cavern or consider those worries, instead I'll steer in the direction that's welcoming, promising, and good, and away from the tempest that exists.

Picking Yourself Up After a Blow

I came home happy after an Sunday afternoon of shopping partly for props and costumes for a special student-teacher school event only to receive a one-two punch in the gut via unwelcome words related to teaching.

It's difficult enough to keep the good energy high in order to teach a large group of young children, and that energy has to be even higher for special events that require money from your own pocket and lots of extra time--yet there's little regard for any of that as when it comes to ratings, what matters most is obedience and silence.

I'm obedient, but I'm also outspoken which is not welcome by many who administrate me.

What's a teacher to do?

This is so discouraging.

Those who administer the one-two verbal or silent-treatment punches again and again forget what it's like to be a classroom teacher. They forget what a bit of encouragement and enthusiasm does to help energize an educator. They forget that when teachers are feeling valued and energized, those good feelings are transferred to their students. They forget that teachers who are invested do care and do speak up when it comes to serving their children well.

If you read my blog, you know this isn't the first blow I've received. I get "punched" a lot in this profession of teaching with put-downs, lack of support, silence, and more. It's not easy.

But when I'm with the children teaching and learning, it's all good. I love what I do.

Yet, when these extraneous events occur, events far removed from the day-to-day work and investment I make, it's wholly discouraging and demeaning--the kind of pain that keeps you up too late at night.

Why Would Some Deny Ideas for Betterment?

Why do some deny or ignore ideas for betterment?

Why do they turn a blind eye or deaf ear to new ideas, questions, and share?

Is it because it means extra work?

Is there disregard because the source is a teacher, one who works with children day in and day out?

Is it because the individual believes he/she is more experienced, intellectual, and knowledgeable about the issue(s)?

I'm not sure.

Doing Your Best When You Are Not Valued

I am clearly not valued by many administrators in the system I work in. I know this by the comments they make and the way they rarely to never respond to my ideas or hard work.

Fortunately parents, students and community members support me well with enthusiasm and care. I am honored by this.

Why the gap?

I believe that the administrators who don't support me feel that it is my job to follow their directives without opinion, thought, question, or idea. They see me as the dutiful soldier in the field whose job it is to obey orders. Sometimes I am unable to silently obey because as a teacher who reads and researches and as one who is observant of her students and their families, I notice areas of concern, potential for betterment, and student needs. This observation, reading and research as well as my many years of experience prompt me to speak up, ask questions, and advocate for what is right and good rather than that which has always been a particular way or a directive that has been set far from the classroom, research, or reading.

Parents and students are in steady contact with me. They know that my first priority is doing what I can to teach the children well. They realize that I am open to their ideas and suggestions, and work carefully with my colleagues to teach every child well.

It's difficult to work in an atmosphere that does not support you well--an arena that continually challenges what you read and research to be right and true. Of course, I don't have all the answers, but I do have considerable experience in the field and spend lots of time reading and researching. When you work in a system like this you have to continually get the energy from inside yourself and outside of the school system. Fortunately I have good colleagues who collaborate with me to do good work for the children.

So what's a teacher to do?

I'll carry on and do the best I can day in and day out to teach well. I'll do as I'm directed by my many administrators and speak up if I feel we can do better, more, or different to serve children well even if my advocacy is not welcome.

I know that those quieter and more dutiful than me are rated with higher regard. They don't speak up too often or make waves, but instead go along as directed. Yet, when I see such great potential for change and betterment, I just can't stay silent--I have to speak up as that's one gift I bring to my field, an ability to see potential and promise that exists to make schools better for every child.






In Some Educational Arenas, Silence is Golden

Once again I was rated lower than others because I speak out and sometimes create tension due to my advocacy. There are many who feel that it's a teacher's place to stay quiet and do the work directed without opinion or comment.

When I first started teaching many years ago this was not an issue. Teachers, at that time, freely discussed ideas and led their work with children. However, in the past twenty years, that freedom has diminished quite a bit which has prompted me to write more emails and speak up more.

As a teacher researcher and learner, I am continually noticing ways that we can improve schools to serve all students well, yet in the climate I work in there is little opportunity to share ideas if you are at the teacher level--the teacher level is mainly directed by a supervisory group that includes multiple administrators. When I share ideas with most of those administrators, I receive little to no feedback. Sometimes I am met with sarcastic remarks and put-downs too.

Many advise me to stay silent. I can't do that as I would not be doing my job which is to advocate for children and look for ways to reach greater success with each student and their learning. Others have helped me to learn to advocate. This has been helpful, yet in my current climate, teacher advocacy is only embraced for some, but not others. I have ideas about why this might be true, but I have no data to prove my ideas.

So, to get a top-notch rating, I would have to become silent and not share my ideas for betterment. Some may say that's not true and that I just have to learn to be quiet and calm when I am challenged, ignored, silenced, or put-down--that's difficult for any person to do.

I always test my actions against an "end-of-life" scale, and in this case that scale would ask, Would I prefer to be known for a better rating or would I prefer to be known as an advocate for children at the end of my life? Of course, I would rather go to my grave having been one who advocates for children--that's more important to me.

As a teacher-researcher and one who is committed to doing the best possible job and moving towards betterment, I will continue to speak up if I believe there are ideas that will help us to serve children better. I will also speak up if I see contradiction, troubles, or issues that demand attention. I will always work to speak up with respect and care, and share my feelings respectfully even when challenged greatly.

It's hurtful to me to receive low marks for having the courage to speak up and debate tough issues especially since I typically have to do this on my own since the climate sends a clear message that speaking up, asking questions, and sharing ideas is not welcome in many areas of the arena where I work.

Fortunately there are people and places where ideas are embraced and betterment is the goal--I will continue to ally myself to those individuals and places, and as much as possible steer clear of those who find new ideas, speaking up, and debate to be more trouble than it's worth. Onward.

Poor Communication

So much potential and possibility is hindered by poor communication. We have to work to make communication accessible and clear to help everyone reach the potential possible.

Professional Path: Updating the Teaching/Learning Schedule

For the past few months, I've been deliberating about what a good path to deeper learning will look like since I have some rich, deeper learning/teaching goals set for the year ahead.

Finally, this morning, a positive routine came to me which includes the following:

Summer: Focus on professional research, reading, online study and writing related to main areas of professional growth and interest: math education, social/emotional learning (SEL), STEAM, and cultural proficiency. Summer study at MTA Summer Conference.

School Year 2017-2018
  • Morning reading reflection
  • Weekend reading/reflection
  • School Time: Hands-on learning/teaching with students and colleagues
  • Professional Connections: In-school teams, out-of-school online share via chats/reading, out-of-school committee work via MTA/DESE
This is a reasonable routine that focuses attention/direction on the areas I've identified for deeper learning and practice development. Onward. 

School Year Orientation

I have been considering the idea of bettering our school year orientation in order to help every child and family start the learning year with strength. The more I consider this topic, read about it, and discuss it with stakeholders, the more I recognize that bettering our school year orientations is a good idea.

This idea arose in me a few years ago as I attended my son's college orientation--the orientation was awesome and really helped both parents and students start college with strength and awareness. Now that my son is about to graduate, I must say that his college experience has been top-notch, and this is partly to do with the fact that we could help him navigate all the opportunities that existed thanks to the early days of freshman year when we received such a great orientation.

On Friday my team will discuss our ideas to better the orientation process for fifth graders entering our classrooms in September. I expect we'll discuss the following aspects of a new orientation process:

Orientation Day
A day before the start of school to help all students who are distanced from the school's geographic environment and academic program to have a small-group orientation that's enjoyable and helpful with regard to the expectations and potential the school year holds. I imagine that this day will include the following:
  • Lead time for parents and students to make arrangements to take part in the day's events.
  • Transportation for those who need it.
  • Places to host the event including the school classrooms, local places of interest, and a place to have dinner together and get to know each other.
  • A combination of serious preparation exercises and enjoyable relationship-building activities.
  • A serious teacher-student-family member(s) intake process where a large number of questions are discussed to get to know as much as possible about who a student is and what he/she needs for success in the year ahead.
In-Take Interview
I believe old-time introductory activities such as many parent nights and early year get-to-know-you activities don't provide enough good information to teach children well. I believe, like hospitals, schools need better family member/child in-take processes that include the following types of questions:
  • What are your/your child's strengths, talents, and interests?
  • Describe a time when your child was most enthusiastic and successful with regard to learning? What elements made that situation so successful?
  • Describe a time when learning and school was unsuccessful for you or your child?  What elements led to the lack of success?
  • Does your child have all the supplies needed for a successful school year including technology and WIFI? (Have the supplies the child/family can't provide available for them at the orientation)
  • What will be your child's transportation to and from school each day? Do you have any needs or questions in that regard?
  • What is the best time and way to contact family members?
  • Can family members help out in any way during the school year such as chaperone field trips, volunteer in the class, or help out during any one of the many special events that will occur? (Have a list of all special events and dates as many families need lots of lead time to take a day off work or arrange child care/transportation so they can help out.)
  • Will your child be able to participate in the following activities: after school homework club, after school math club, the after school activities program, student council, or special programming? Will you need a scholarship for these events? (Have scholarship forms ready to fill out with family members?)
  • (Ask if appropriate) Does your family work with the local social worker? If so, how? Is there a need for the school and social worker to work together on behalf of your child?
  • Since a lot of children develop confidence and social relationships with students during extracurricular activities, I'm wondering if your child participates in any of the many extracurricular activities available at school or in the community? This is a good way to help your child connect with others.
  • How will your child access lunch and snacks daily? Does your child have what he/she needs to bring in a healthy snack and water every day? (If appropriate to ask) Does your child need a free and reduced lunch? (Have forms available to fill out right at the meeting)
  • Do you and/or your child speak another language at home? Has your child been involved with ELL services in the past?
  • Does your child have or have had in the past an IEP? Has she/he had special education services of any kind in the past?
  • Does your child have any physical or medical issues that the school needs to be aware of?
  • What else do I need to know about your child in order to teach him/her well?
The in-take interview should be a welcoming event where the educators are trying to figure out how to best build a strong learning/teaching relationship with the child. It would be good to have refreshments available and a comfortable setting for this event.

Start-of-Year Get-to-Know Each Other Project
Last year the students made a great Three-Words video which helped to build a strong, respectful class culture. I can't share our video because students used their last names, but I can share this post which describes the project. 

Showcase Portfolios
Our team has been developing our use of showcase portfolios as one way to collect, share, and reflect on student learning. The initial showcase portfolio efforts begin with the Happiness Survey where students reflect on what makes them happy. This provides a very positive start. Other important start-of-the-year elements of this portfolio include the parent-student survey and the "What I wish you knew about me" student letters. The showcase portfolio in a sense becomes a storybook about the child's learning during the fifth grade year. It also serves as a point of discussion throughout the year as students, families, and teachers make decisions about learning.

Curriculum Night
Traditionally this has been a night for parents to learn about the school program. As a team, the fifth grade teachers present what's important about the year ahead. I imagine we'll revisit this aspect of orientation too to see how we can make it better, but I must say I think this is a strong piece of the overall orientation at this point. 

Old time school parent nights have a "factory" like quality similar to old time school structures of children sitting in rows all day listening and responding to teachers. It's time to rethink how we orient children and their families to the school year, and it's important that these orientations are empowering, enjoyable, and engaging events that help every child, family, and teacher know what's important with regard to getting the school year off to a positive start. 

The Week Ahead: What Matters?

Teamwork and Respect
After play practice on Friday, I had a serious talk with students about what's required for optimal teamwork. It's clear that for a few, the long play practices are tiring, yet it's important that students have an opportunity to try out this kind of learning and performing. For some, it will be an important step to their participation in countless arts events, and for others, it will offer the recognition that drama may not be their first choice when it comes to extracurricular activities or their future study and/or careers.

The play, in many ways, is also a lesson on teamwork and respect. As students practice they are learning about their role as part of a team, and as part of a team, they are learning to help each other out, encourage one another, and demonstrate respect and care about each others' strengths, interests, and challenges too.

I had to be a bit strong as I spoke to students about this need for teamwork, and I stated that it's not fair for any one person to upset the performance for all students. I enlisted a bit of parent support in this as well. Sometimes teachers and parents have to use strong words and cautionary tales/advice to lead children forward. We know from our own lives, that learning these lessons early on, helps children navigate their lives in the future.

Fifth Grade Play
Once we complete our final practice on Monday, it will be time to encourage the team with positivity. At that point we all will have given the performance our best time and attention, and then we will celebrate and enjoy the excellence of team and talent that the students portray as they entertain schoolmates, teachers, family members and friends.

Safety
As seasons change, I give safety talks. I try to help students anticipate the kinds of problems that can exist and give them a way to deal with those problems. During this season, the problems that can exist for students include street safety, water safety, stranger safety, and fire safety. Generally the rule of thumb when it comes to street safety is to be very careful when crossing streets and walking near busy streets--with increased traffic in our area and so many who are distracted by phones and other tech devices, students have to be extra cautious. Similarly, students have to be safe by water. As tempting as it may be to jump in for a swim, children should never go swimming without an adult present, and they should never dive into water without checking the depth of the water first. Stranger safety is a bit more important in the warm weather months simply because there are more people out and around, and fire safety is important as people begin to barbecue and have camp fires. Parents who may not have grown up in this area or who may not have spent lots of time with lots of children might not realize the safety lessons important for young children at the turn of each season, so I think it's important for teachers and safety officials to keep those messages alive.

Math Assessments
Students will take the final systemwide math assessments this week as well. That will give them a chance to "show what they know" about the final standards which we have already reviewed. The assessments will also give me the information I need to complete standards-based report cards which identify which standards students have mastered in math and which standards they are still working on. Parents and future teachers can use this information to work on the gaps and provide enrichment where needed with summer study via Khan Academy and other venues as well as lessons in sixth grade.

Biography Project
Students will continue to read about their "global changemakers" and take notes. Soon they'll start writing their presentations, completing mini posters, and drawing portraits too.

PLC Focus: Improving our Student Orientation for 2017-2018 School Year
Our team will meet to discuss these efforts.

Thanks to our team approach to teaching all fifth graders, so far this has been the best end-of-school year I can remember. It is well choreographed and organized allowing both teachers and students to enjoy the final days rather than experience too much stress or worry.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Specifically Charting the Focus Ahead: A Joyful and Meaningful Time

The calendar is set for the final weeks of school. Everyday is filled with wonderful learning and teaching activities, and as I think about dignity today, I want to think more specifically about the focus of all of these events.

Final Math Assessments and Goals
Several students are about ready to complete an expected online math goal. I want to make the time and provide the support to students so they can complete this goal. What's important here is that the goal provides students with a worthy foundation of math understanding and visualization--a foundation that will support later study.

All students have to take the final math assessments too which they will do at the end of next week. It's important that students understand that this is a systemwide requirement and one that gives them an opportunity to show what they know. Doing their best is what is important since what we learn from student assessments will help us to help parents and next year's teachers teach the students well.

Biography Project: Global Changemakers
Essentially this project provides every child with one global changemaker "mentor" since their study will reveal how one transformative individual lived/lives and to made/makes a difference in the world. These modern and historical "mentors" will inspire students now and in the future and the project will provide students with critical thinking, research, writing and presentation skills.

Field Day
Field Day is all about good sportsmanship, fun, health and team. It's also a chance for those students who love and enjoy the physical fitness aspects of life the most to shine.

Field Studies
Field studies related to historic Boston and local wetlands will provide students with an opportunity to learn in rich city and nature landscapes. We hope this learning will inspire students and families to continue this kind of learning in their lives outside of school as well.

STEAM
Students love the hands-on science, tech, engineering, art, and math design and exploration activities. They will have the chance to engage in a number of these activities at the end of the year--activities which teach them how to work with their individual and collective creativity, knowledge, research, and skill to innovate, invent, and design solutions to real-world problems.

Fifth Grade Play
The fifth grade play teaches students how to work with the arts as a team. They learn that a good performance depends on all of their skills, talents, and attention to the team needs and efforts. They will also learn the magic of the arts as they watch the way their collective performance brings joy, smiles, interest, and emotion to the audiences of schoolmates and family members.

Celebrations and Fun
The end-year celebrations are well orchestrated providing students with the right amount of memory, reflection, relaxation, and joyful celebration. The celebrations signal the end of the year, and for our students the end of elementary school, and this is important because it's important to acknowledge the important milestones in life--milestones that bring meaning and happiness.

As one teacher involved in all of these events, what's important is to be present for the students coaching and helping every child to get the most out of each event in positive, meaningful, and joyful ways. Onward.

Teaching with Human Dignity: What Messages Do You Send as You Teach?

What messages do our decisions, acts, rules, and programs send to students? This is an important question to ask whenever we make a decision that involves students.

In general I think we want to achieve the following messages when we act with and for students:
  • You matter: We want students to know we care about them and they are important in our world.
  • This decision will provide you with important tools and perspective for your future: We want to connect the decisions and actions we make to our desire to help students develop well for a future of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
  • I see you and I respect you: We want students to know that we see and respect who they are and how they are wonderfully similar and different from all the other students.
  • I am working with and for you: We want students to know that we are working with them to develop as learners--none of us have all the answers, and no one is without merit or importance as we learn together. Also, teachers are there to serve students and not the other way around.
  • Learning is meaningful and transformative: We want students to know that what they are doing as learners will truly change their lives in positive ways. For example during our recent biography study, students are essentially learning how to live by reading about the life of one famous world changemaker. Changemakers can serve as mentors to us as we make choices and act in our lives. 
  • Learning is fun and playful: We want students to understand what learning is with the latest cognitive and social/emotional research, and that learning is, in part, playful and fun. 
The programs and lessons we plan, the way we set up our classrooms, the tone of our voice, the conversations we have, the demeanor we share, and the care we put into every aspect of the teaching/learning program sends a message to students. It's integral that the messages that we send elevate, empower, and engage students in ways that leave them with self confidence, a sense of responsibility, and the tools to go forward with strength.

The questions in the chart below are one way that we can assess our work in this regard. 


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Needled

Like a pin cushion, you feel the pricks of one troubling remark, directive, or expectation over and over again. At first you let it go. Then you begin to feel a bit bothered, and after that you really have to make a decision about how to respond.

We probably have all been needled one time or another, and perhaps we've needled knowingly or unknowingly too. The key is to figure out how to respond to needling with respect and good process.
  • Listen carefully to what the needler is saying and not saying.
  • Respond as you would hope to be responded to with respect, care, and honest intent.
  • Keep track of the needler's efforts and speak to look for trends and to understand better.
  • Figure out a peaceful path in light of the needler's constant barrage.
It's the time of the school year where needling can happen for many reasons. It can be as simple as a hot classroom or as complex as a troubling family issue. It's important not to let needling get to you, but instead to react with a professional, well-meaning response. 

Silence Can Be Used to Intimidate

A response of silence to questions and quandary can be considered a form of intimidation. When people repeatedly ignore questions or not respond to requests, they send a worrisome message that you are not worth the time or energy that a response takes.

As much as possible, it is my intent to respond to requests, questions, and issues in a timely, polite manner. If I don't respond, please let me know. Also if you are not pleased with the response, let me know that too.

I worry about those who don't respond. I keep track to understand trends and try to find, perhaps, a better way, but all in all consistent silence with regard to responses to questions, concerns, and issues is intimidating and disconcerting. Onward.

Parenting and Teaching: Summer Suggestions

As you can imagine, I look forward to summer vacation. Students look forward to summer vacation too.

I'm not a fan of full-year school as I believe both students and teachers profit from the difference that summer months bring. However, I am sensitive to families for whom summer vacation is a burden due to the need to work and the challenge of finding and affordable, positive care options for children. What I wish for those children and families is the opportunity to attend wonderful summer camps and explorations--a chance to learn in different environments with lots of hands-on, creative learning--the kind that rich families have afforded their children for generations.

There are many ways that families can make summer a wonderful experience for their children including the following:
  • Think about your child's interests and passions, then find camps, summer programs, and events that will help your child to develop those passions and talents. Note that many, many camps provide scholarships--don't be afraid to ask about that if that will help your child attend these wonderful events. Also in the past, I've worked at camps to afford my children's admission--that's another option for those who have the time. 
  • List the museums, parks, zoos, nature preserves and other local attractions. Find out if your local library or school offers free or reduced admission. Plan to visit those local attractions throughout the summer.
  • Discover local nature paths, hills, and mountains--plan hikes, camping, and other outdoor adventures.
  • Think of a good schedule for family life, a schedule that includes daily reading and some fun math practice too such as playing cards, board games, Minecraft, or other online entertaining math games. 
  • Plan a family vacation. This doesn't have to be fancy, but if you can afford it, one night at a campground or inexpensive hotel with a pool can be fun for the whole family. Day trips are lots of fun too. Public transportation often has routes to all kinds of interesting places.
  • Watch great movies together. Look online for a list of classics or movies that every family should see and schedule a weekly movie night with popcorn and a family film. There's also great series of shows available too that a whole family can enjoy or single shows like 60 Minutes that lead to great family conversations.
Having a family meeting ahead of the summer days can help set the stage on how you're going to make summer special for everybody. This is a good time to get started with the planning. 

Can't Do That. . .

I'm clearing the professional path to hone in on what really matters to me which is teaching every child well. I know there's more we can do, and that's where my attention lies. What will I do and advocate for:
  • Better intake system
  • Better coordination with health/social service agencies
  • Greater collaboration amongst all members of the learning team
  • Updating classroom websites
  • Creating better scaffolding of content, knowledge, and skill to support optimal differentiation
  • Reading professional books that have up-to-date research, inspiration and information about teaching well
  • Writing grants to support transforming my classroom to a modern teaching/learning environment
  • Reflect on and better collaboration in certain spheres that are currently confusing
  • Healthy, active living which leads to energy and good work
The invitations to work on multiple projects have been wonderful. I am so honored to have been invited, but deep down, I know that the right thing to do right now is better the work I do right here in and for the classroom This is the work that matters now.

I'll use this work as I write to. I'll share highlights, questions, learning curves, and research for those who may be interested in this direction. 

At every decision, we choose a path, and it's best if we choose that path with an eye on the future and attention to these questions:
  • What work calls me?
  • What work can I do well for others?
  • What work will I be proud to say I've accomplished at the end of my career?
  • What work energizes me?
  • Where are my talents and abilities best directed?

Start a Test with a Couple Easy, Inspiring Questions

I watched a young child take a test.

This child is sometimes discouraged when it comes to test taking and at times will even stop taking the test.

As she took a recent test, I noticed that the first question was an easy, accessible, and inspiring question.

The little girl knew the answer and that energized her efforts for the rest of the test.

This reminds me that it's good to start any test or assessment with a question that's accessible and inspiring to all--that sets the stage for better work, effort, and performance.

Trump Times Continued. . .

I've written a lot about Trump times in view of the daily events related to the decisions and actions of the executive branch.

I must say that I'm relieved that an independent investigator has been hired to figure out what happened with regard to Russia's influence on the 2016 election and our government in general. I am pleased that this investigator seems to be well embraced by lawmakers from both Republican and Democratic parties as well as political leaders throughout our nation.

As I often write, I see from one set of eyes and experiences. I will continue to read and study about the issues that impact our government, but now that the investigation is happening, I hope to give my energy to my own work and endeavor.

Helping One Another: Strong Schools

A good and dedicated colleague was unready for a specific expectation. This colleague was not ready because she was so busy taking good care of students that she didn't have time to do the extraneous task asked of her. The colleague was stressed.

This is when helping one another comes in--who does have a few minutes available to pitch in when a colleague is wholly busy with student needs, the first priority for every teacher? How should expectations be re-looked at in situations like this?

One great aspect of our shared teaching model is that we work so closely together that an issue like the one described above rarely happens as we're always pitching in to help each other--the stress is far reduced in comparison to the one-teacher-one-classroom model. In so many ways we can bring our individual expertise, interest, and time to help the whole team.

Also, as educators, it's important to re-look at expectations over time and streamline those expectations so that most time is spent on teaching students well. Recently an administrator streamlined expectations to allow educators more time for tasks that serve students well--this was a welcome effort.

In good, strong teaching/learning environments discussion and debate is ongoing, communication about what has happened, is happening, and will happen is ready and regular, and people work as a team with respect and care for one another--all positions are valued and all are seen as vital team members.

It's critical that we build communities of care in schools, and those are communities are places where people help one another in ways that matter.

What Work Energizes You?

I try lots and lots of varying education-related ventures, and the more I try, the more I realize that what energizes me most in education is working to teach every child well. I love the challenge, creativity, and research that this goal awakens in me.

Meeting the goal of teaching children well includes the following efforts:
  • Optimal collegial collaboration
  • Lots of good reading and research
  • Attention to pedagogy, pacing, observation, listening, and parent-student collaboration
  • Creating an optimal teaching/learning environment
  • Advocacy with regard to what students and teachers need for optimal teaching and learning
With this in mind, I said no to a number of invitations recently--wonderful professional invitations, but invitations that would take me away from this valued goal.

Instead, as noted before, I want to spend my summer reading a lot and working towards my development as an energized, committed, knowledgeable,and successful teacher of young children. This has been my life's work and it is work I continue to be dedicated to. 

Do What You Can: Ally with Energizing Individuals and Groups

Yesterday I was caught by surprise. I had offered my idea happily only to be told it was not welcome. I forgot that there will always be people, places, and groups that don't welcome who you are or what you think or know. That's the way life is.

You can give these arenas good effort, rationale, and outreach, but after consistent pushback, you may decide that it's just not worth the time or effort to share your thinking in these arenas, and better to just do as you are directed as long as those directions do not hurt or harm people. Last year a colleague shared this thinking with me after she had been chided for sharing her ideas in the same arena. I countered with words like this, "How can you not speak up. You're a great teacher with so much knowledge--you've done such great work for so long." I was sad to see such a talented colleague demeaned and quieted--it was a loss for all of us not to be able to hear her voice and listen to her good ideas and experience.

The quandary that exists is that it is hard for me to imagine why others wouldn't want to entertain ideas for betterment or discuss what a classroom teacher knows and desires for his/her classroom and learning environment to better the experience of school for children. There are some, however, that I fear see classroom teachers more as "robots" or "do-its," not professional educators who have and continue to spend considerable time reading, researching, and reflecting about practice. As you know, one reason I'm a big fan of distributive leadership models is that those models give voice and choice to educators on the front lines of teaching rather than treat educators as the assembly line workers who are told what to do and are not allowed to think or use their own ideas and knowledge.

That being said, the lack of voice and choice does continue in pockets of education everywhere, and when possible, one needs to minimize the connections to those arenas as it's very difficult for educators to do their jobs well with little voice and choice--that's not how true learning and teaching works. True, effective teaching and learning is not a passive activity, instead it's an active, thoughtful, and evolving endeavor where educators collaborate, read, research, reflect, implement, and adapt countless ideas, knowledge, and response to best teach every child in their charge--this is the good teaching work I am committed to.

I am disheartened by old factory models of educational leadership and work--the kinds of models that don't regard educators with respect, good communication, debate/discussion, and care. Fortunately I also work in multiple arenas where educators are respected and work with terrific collegiality--these are the arenas that nurture terrific teaching and learning work and practice. These are the arenas where our service to children grows exponentially as we are seldom worried, demeaned, or unheard, but instead mostly valued and listened to as we work together to elevate what we can do with and for others. This is real teaching at its best. The new shared model I work in is an example of a teaching/learning arena like this--what we're able to do with this model is incredible and growing all the time.

I see setbacks like the recent surprise as a reminder that it is important to ally oneself to those that empower and energize the good work possible and steer clear as much as possible from those that continually demean, disrespect, and disregard you--those that rarely answer an email, don't enlist your thinking about decisions that impact you, withhold important information, and look down on you regularly.

Our detractors, when considered well, can serve as the sandpaper that refine our edges. They can also lead to our demise if we are not observant and thoughtful about how we handle their response to our words and acts. It's best to keep track of what happens in writing in order to understand and also to be able to represent one's rights if needed.