Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Professional Learning

Professional Learning is something we have all participated in at some point during our educational careers. Unfortunately, it is usually associated with a dreadful experience for anyone who has to attend. Some teachers save their sick time so they do not have to attend these sessions. Others bring something else to do during that time: grade papers, read a book, check their phone, or doodle on the agenda given when one enters the space. Learning is actually the furthest thing on the minds of the people in the crowd.

Why is this? Why do most educators dread attending what is suppose to help them improve? Usually, it is because the topics are not relevant. It is apparent that the topic for this "day of learning" is just something that must be completed. It is in no way going to help us improve as teachers. It is just something that needs to be done so someone higher up can check off that their district covered this topic. It is quite obvious that there will not be an opportunity to have any follow up at a later time. The attendees never feel connected to what is being discussed, so there is minimal learning actually going on.

I always kept the above scenario in mind when I planned sessions where I was presenting something to my colleagues. I understood that they wanted to leave a session with something they can use the very next day. They want something tangible. They want to be able to work through a process, scenario, or new technology that will ultimately better them as educators. They want interaction. They want to discuss the topic with the people around them. Share ideas. Question. Think. Share.

The funny thing is, I wonder how many of these teachers allow their students to learn the same way. How many of them give their students time to work through something before grading it? Do they get a chance to talk through a process. Share with others in the class? Present alternate ways of solving the problem? Learn from a group instead of just the person standing in front of the group?

Yes, I am being a little facetious, but I do not think I am that far off. I have learned over the years that leading teachers through a process is very similar to leading students through a new topic; both want time to work through the kinks. Both want a chance to talk with others, either to check what they have done, or learn from someone else. Lastly, both want to know that they will get a chance to redo something if they find themselves struggling.

In closing, I guess I just find it interesting both teachers and students learn similarly, only the latter group usually gets graded on something shortly after learning it.

Thank you for giving me time to work through this. I have been thinking about this for a while. Please feel free to leave a comment...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Putting the Learning on Them

My math students have been working on creating blogs over the last several weeks. With the help of our computer teacher, we now have all 6th-8th graders with blogger accounts. I have used the last month giving the students weekly activities to work on and post. Currently, the posts are only visible by a couple of administrators. I am hoping to be able to gradually open these up school wide and then fully public. After about a month of having my students working on these, here are some thoughts/reactions:

1. I have learned that many of my students are extremely creative. A little embarrassing to finally see that after working with a kid for over two years.
2. I have had students ask if they could post activities from other classes. I love the fact many of them are using their own time to create a cool blog.
3. Giving feedback is critical on my part. I am constantly reading blogs and giving them feedback on what I see and what I do not see.
4. Trying to keep the feedback away from saying good job, good work, good points. Trying to make it specific as to what I see and do not see.
5. As interesting as the topics are, I still have some that do not complete the activity. Even when given the choice of topics, some choose to not complete it.
6. Teaching digital literacy is constant. It adds more to my plate, but is necessary in today's world.
7. I am hoping the students will use these blogs as digital portfolios when they go to apply to high school. I have relayed that to them.
8. The topics for the blogs have math connections. I try to get them to connect something from another subject with a topic in math that we have covered.
9. I will not tell them what specific connection they should use. They must discover/find them by themselves. If they ask, I try to push them towards things they are interested in.

Overall, I am pleased with the progress of the blogs. I am hopeful that this will branch out to include more viewers for the students. I am interested to see how the work improves when they know more people may view it. Right now, I am the only one that can see the work.

Thank you for giving the space and time to work through my thoughts. I expect these blogs to be helpful to my students as digital portfolios. I am learning what the difference between these two are.

Any suggestions on how I can have my students make the step from "just creating blogs" to creating digital portfolios?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hitting the Restart Button

I have to get something off my chest. I was not excited about returning this fall. I was not looking forward to starting my 21st year of teaching. I was not looking forward to getting back to the grind of working with students. Pushing them to be better each day. I was really dragging.

Why? Honestly, because I really thought I was getting a new job. I had interviewed twice for Administrative jobs that I was really excited about getting. Both opportunities provided me with the chance for a final round interview with the Superintendent and other members of the Admin Team. I was so close to landing these jobs, I could taste it.

When I received the phone call with the news I did not get them, I was crushed. Actually, crushed does not truly describe how I felt. I really thought I had an excellent shot at both opportunities. Well, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

What helped to pull me out of my funk? About a week ago I started sending "Good Notes Home" to a few students each day. The emails I sent were nothing spectacular, just a brief note describing the things I saw in class: asking good questions, helping other classmates, doing solid work, etc. I wanted to share with parents a brief snippet of what was going on with their child in my class. We do not see them until late November when we have Conferences.

The feedback I have received from parents has been awesome. They really like the fact that I am taking the time to share the "good stuff" going on in our room. I am not focusing the note on the grade they are receiving. I am focusing on the good habits that I see.

How has this little practice helped me? Actually, it has given me the shot in the arm I desperately needed. Also, it has forced me to look for the good things certain students are doing during the day. It has made my observations intentional so I can share these notes with parents later.

I highly recommend starting this activity. It does not take a lot of time during the day (less than 10 minutes), so there really is no excuse. Usually when teachers reach out to parents it is to share a problem. I still may have to make those calls one day, but I will have started the relationship on a positive note prior to that exchange.

Many thanks to George Couros (@gcouros) and Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) for blogging about the importance of getting rid of the excuses and sitting down to write.

What have you done recently to hit the "restart button"? Please share.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Me, An Innovator?

I just finished "The Innovator's Mindset" by George Couros (@gcouros). I am not going to treat this post as a review of the book, maybe that will be at a later date. For now, I really want to focus on one of the discussion questions George posed at the end of the last chapter: "What is one thing that you are going to try immediately to help move closer to a new vision for learning?"

I really like this question for several reasons: One, it asks what is the ONE thing that you can try. This is perfect for me because I have a bad habit of trying too many new things in my class that I never feel like I come close to "mastering" any of them. The second reason I love this question is the word immediately. Again, I usually spend too much time thinking about ways to change my class. I will weigh the pros and cons before deciding on whether it is a go. The bad part of this? By the time I make a decision, I feel like a "new, better version" of something comes along that I want to try.

The focus of this post is on the last word in the above question: learning. I love the word because it does not specify whose learning we are talking about. As I usually view things, I saw it as the learning going on my classroom. The learning going on for everyone in the class. Including myself. What change am I willing to make to help improve the learning for both my students and myself?

Well, this week we began having all 6th through 8th grade students create their own blog through Google Blogger. I am seeing these blogs being used for the students as a place to display their learning and thinking. I am hoping they use if for more than just math. I want them to use this space to display the cool things they try: making videos, podcasts, powerpoints, or just plain writing. The students seemed genuinely excited about setting them up.

I am hoping our students use these platforms as a digital portfolio when they begin to decide where they want to go to high school. I hope they use these portfolios as a symbol of the work and dedication they put into their learning while at our school.

I will be learning more about upgrading my blog right along with them. I am working hard at creating a blog that really reflects my educational beliefs. This is a work in progress, since I really saw a blog as some place to write. George's book really opened up my eyes to the different ways I can use my blog. I am hoping to add these new elements over the next couple of months.

Thank you, George, for creating something that will resonate with a lot of educators. I hope we help to accelerate the learning as we share how impactful this book was to us, and ultimately, our students.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pushing Boundaries

There comes a point in your career when you begin to feel that something needs to change. You begin to slightly resent the mundane things in your routine. You try to challenge yourself to push past this, but you find it hard to let go of that feeling. Why am I not excited about going back? Why am not really looking forward to the school year starting? I was really struggling with these questions as the summer drew to a close.

It was then that I realized I needed to push myself out of my comfort level. I needed to do this to get the excitement back. I needed to do this for my students. If I could force myself to make this change, I would be a better teacher for my students.

Sometime late in the summer, I made the decision to implement a rather innovative (for me) idea. I am asking my students to create something to demonstrate their learning each marking period. I no longer want them to be consumers of knowledge in my class. I want them to be able to take the information and create something new as a result. In doing this, I am hoping to unleash the creativity in my students. By doing this, I am hopeful that my students look at innovative ways to demonstrate their understanding of concepts.

I am really concentrating on this one addition this year. I have a bad habit of getting so caught up in the latest fad, app, or program that I end up trying too many things. Forcing myself to focus on this one activity each marking period will help simplify things a bit. Do I expect this to be easy? Absolutely not. Will there be bumps in the road? Yes. But for me, focusing on this one change was enough to get the juices flowing again. I hope it does the same for my students.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Creating a Voice

I have finally done it. I am actually sitting down and forcing myself to write. I am very good at delaying this part of my reflection process. I am constantly thinking about ways to improve my craft. How to deliver a better lesson. How to have my students more engaged. How to put the learning back on them. I absolutely drag my heels when it comes to this part, but I am here. I am trying to work through a change I would like to implement for this school year.

I have spent the summer reading things from Mark Barnes (@markbarnes19) and his #hacklearning community, George Couros' (@gcouros) book: "The Innovator's Mindset", Drew Frank's (@ugafrank) #blogamonth community, and Jonathon Wennstrom's (@jon_wennstrom) #compelledtribe community. Needless to say, my head is always spinning from these great leaders and the information they share and create.

The last word here is what I would like to focus on for this year: creating. I am looking to implement a quarterly activity where I am asking my students to create something to show their learning for the marking period. I am envisioning a self-evaluation process for the marking period. This would give them a constant essential question to ponder: How can I relate (insert learning topic here) to my world? What connections can I make between what I am learning and what I am passionate about?

This is a very early concept that I am still rattling around in my brain, but I am hoping to work through some of it before the start of the school year. I am expecting my students to have a majority of their own voice in the process. I will be available to guide them in their thinking and learning processes.

Some early "hurdles"...
1. We will need to create a list of ways students can show they are learning. See this "list" as an ever evolving Google Doc we can share in Google Classroom.
2. Providing time for students who do not have access at home. This can be solved with lunch time help in my classroom.
3. Reaching out to colleagues to help with technology questions. Or, sitting down with the student myself so we both learn along the way.
4. Guiding students to help them answer their own often used question: "Why do I have to know this?"
5. Managing my time so I can provide quality feedback to students when needed.
6. Not really sure how this is going to end up. I really do not know what kind of final product I am getting.

I really want to have my students creating more in my math classes. I am always looking for ways to not be the hardest working person in the room. I think this will be a nice addition to our classroom this year. Stay tuned for updates on this process...

After reading the list above, am I missing anything? Please share...

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Aren't You Happy Where You Are?

It was the end of a regular school day in the beginning of June. I was coming home from work to a list of things that had to be done before getting the carpool moving for soccer practice. Dinner had to be made. Lunches packed. Homework (for all of us) had to be done. Typical busy home life, right?

My son then asked me how my day was. He is typically interested in how things went for me. He is just not asking to be polite. He is genuinely interested in how things go for the members of our family. It is one of the many things about him that I love.

I told him I had a job interview that afternoon. I was applying for a math coach in a neighboring school district. He stopped his homework long enough to ask me: "Aren't you happy where you are?"

Of course, at the time, I had no idea how to answer his question other than to reply weakly: "Yes, I am happy where I am." Over the last couple of weeks, I have had his question bounce around in my head. I am perfectly happy where I am teaching. I have been there over 15 years. I am very familiar with the procedures and policies. I have a solid rapport with the community and staff.

So, here are the reasons I should have given him a couple of weeks ago:
1. Interviewing allows me stay current on educational topics.
2. It helps me network face to face.
3. It forces me to update my resume. I think too many educators do not take the time to see how much they do in their school community. We generally do not take a lot of time to think of ourselves. But, interviewing forces you to take time to see how impactful you have been over the years.
4. It keeps me from being okay with being comfortable. Interviewing is nerve wracking. It pushes me out of my comfort zone.
5. I constantly ask my students and kids to challenge themselves. Do not settle for just being "okay". Getting myself out there really forces me to step up my game. I need to constantly walk the walk, right?

Actually, I am glad I was not prepared to answer my son with this great list a couple of weeks ago. There is no way he would have listened the whole way through. His caring for my day would have been overrun by his desire to finish his math homework.

If you have not recently forced yourself to get out and interview, I encourage you to do so. What are some other things I missed from my list? How does interviewing help us as educators?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Every square is a rectangle

It is Geometry time in my class. We have spent the last few weeks talking about different shapes, their characteristics, calculating their areas and perimeters, and performing transformations on them. We have discussed at length why the statement "every square is a rectangle, but not all rectangles are squares." We followed that same discussion with other shapes as well. Seemed to help aid the discussion about different quadrilaterals.

This last week I also stumbled across this post from Starr Sackstein titled: Teachers vs. Educators. In this post, Starr discusses a Ted Talk she witnessed from a high school student about the difference between a teacher and an educator. Starr really had me thinking of the difference between these groups of people...

I think we can safely say that all Educators are Teachers, but not all Teachers are Educators. Every Educator does the following:
1. Works hard to present lessons daily.
2. Provides information to their students daily.
3. Challenges their students at their appropriate levels.
4. Completes all paperwork in an orderly manner.

What then is it that Educators do that not all teachers do? After some thought, here is my list:
1. Educators create a culture of learning in their room.
2. Educators connect with their students.
3. Educators hold discussions with their students outside of class.
4. Educators stay up late/wake up early worrying about their students.
5. Educators can not imagine doing anything else.

The last point I have spent a lot time hanging onto is the idea of Educators leaving a legacy after teaching for a long period of time. They touch an endless amount of lives whether they realize it or not. Educators create a legacy without realizing what they are creating. They do not realize what is going on because they are so focused on constantly improving themselves. It is through this improvement that a culture is created in their classroom.

I have a long list of educators that I have worked with over the years. I did not realize they were educators at the time until I began to change what I was doing to be more like them. Teachers come and go, but an Educator leaves something behind. Something that you can not necessarily put your finger on, but it is there. We do not know what it is, but we want to emulate them. We tuck things into our "mental folder" to use later in our own classrooms.

So, I guess my final question is: Are you a rectangle or a square? Also, if you have anything to add to the above lists, please do so.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How Did I Get Here?

Finished the dishes. Cleaned up after dinner. Ironed my clothes for tomorrow. Checked my to-do list one more time. Let the dog out. Finished my paperwork for our township basketball league. Since there is nothing else to do, I am now sitting to write.

So, as you can probably tell, I have joined the Compelled Blogging Challenge for a reason: to force myself to get more comfortable with my writing. This is something that has always been a challenge to me. Having the words flow off my hands were never an easy task. So, I am sitting down to write. Forcing myself to try and get comfortable with a process that does not come naturally to me.

I use to have the same feeling about my Professional Growth. When I first started teaching, I was just trying to survive. "Growth" for me was trying to make it from year to year. "Growth" was just trying to save enough worksheets, tests and quizzes in my countless folders to use the following year. Man, did I have it all wrong...

My Professional Growth started to make a big change when I discovered Twitter. I can not begin to explain the impact this has had for me, but of course I will try:
1. I have connected with countless educators that have pushed my thinking in pedagogy and research.
2. I have connected with educational authors that I was able to share my classroom experience with.
3. I have used these connections to be interviewed for an EdWeek blog.
4. Made meeting these connections face to face at an EdCamp so much easier. There was no need for "ice breakers".
5. Provided me with an endless amount of resources to keep challenging the students in my classroom.
6. Have provided me with shoulders to lean on when a lesson or a unit does not go well. I can not thank them enough for that.
7. Twitter, for me, is a great culture of learning. I love the sense of collegiality among the educators that participate in the chats I follow.
8. I am not afraid to try something new because I have had the opportunity to discuss things with a group of people on Twitter before I give the lesson.

Needless to say, I am very happy with my Professional Growth since I joined Twitter. I never thought I would have had the Professional opportunities occur over the last several years before joining Twitter. I am very thankful for the educators that have "paid if forward" by helping me during my teaching journey. I now feel it is my obligation to continue this trend by helping others the same way. It took me a while to figure this out, but I do not really think we grow as educators until we help others grow themselves.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Alternate Assessment

We had four days before Spring Break. I was looking for something different to do with my 8th graders to have them show me their understanding of percents. We had spent the previous week going over the basics: how to find discounts, how to apply sales tax, how to calculate tip, and how to use the simple interest formula. We had talked about so many real world scenarios while going through these concepts, that the last thing I wanted to do was have them complete the test from the book.

So, what to do? I quickly did a Google search to find an activity they could complete to show their understanding. I quickly found an activity on Application of Percents called Shopping Spree. In it, the students were asked to spend $2,500 to redecorate a room in their house. They were given a list of things they needed to purchase for each room. In addition, I also gave them a list of stores they could shop: Lowes, Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond were a few. They were also given percents off all items purchased from each of these stores. These discounts were in addition to any they found the stores were currently giving. Here are some observations from the week:

1. I heard three kids mention they found some items at home. I never mentioned it was homework, but they chose to do some of the work at home. I was shocked because two of them do not typically do anything outside of class.

2. There was no "getting class started". I had 15 8th graders entering the room, going right to their chromebooks, and getting started on the activity.

3. Discussion between students was mostly on topic. I had only a few times over four days that a couple students needed redirection.

4. The students knew who to go to for help. I saw several of them go to a couple of kids who they knew could help them set up Blogger. Others went to different kids who they knew understood how to calculate discounts well.

5. I could meet with the students for a few minutes while the rest of the class was working.

6. The students had a reason to learn the material and that was to apply it to the project.

7. I was surprised how many of them did not know how to do some basic things in Google Drive. We were able to work through things like setting up Blogger, linking Google Sheets to a Document, and sharing a Power Point. I tried to get them away from creating these, but was not successful with all of them.

8. I will need to see how they fared once we return from break. I was able to get most of the "grading" done while informally walking around. I already know they all have their math correct, so I just need to look at their reflections.

I am happy at how the week wound down with this class. I would like to think the activity was relevant and helped keep them focus before break. I will not know if this worked until I look at the products they produced. I had 15 8th graders working past the bell the day before Spring Break started. That is a win in my book.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bumpy Road

We are starting the process of creating a home grown curriculum at my school. For years, we had a curriculum, but it was just a document that was mostly borrowed from another district. The fact that we did this is material for a separate post, I suspect, but I would like to focus on the steps we are working through as a staff to begin to create a document that is home grown.

Luckily, our principal signed us up for a new program in New Jersey called the CAR (Connected Action Roadmap) Pilot. This program, created by the department of education, is program that gets schools to maximize the work of their PLCs. After attending a workshop held by the department, the group of us went back to our school to begin to explain how the staff is going to begin our journey down the path of creating our home grown curriculum.

As we presented to the group, we explained the road map we were going to follow. As usually happens, we immediately began to face: "Why do we have to do this? How can I do this? I am not a curriculum person. Can't we just pay someone to do this?"

It became quickly apparent to the presenting group, we had our work cut out for us. See, the principal was using the feedback from a survey sent to the staff. The leading response was work on our curriculum, so we had feedback to help guide us toward the most urgent problem of the curriculum. Regardless of the feedback, we are still facing an uphill battle. There appears to be three groups:

The first group is the group that feels this is a waste of time. They do not see the need for doing this work. They are very happy with the way things are. How are we handling this group? By providing them with the big picture overview of our journey. We are giving them "pictures" of what the final product will look like. We are hoping this will help fill in the gaps they might have and get them motivated to work.

The second group is the indifferent group. This group is doing the work, but they are not really enthused about getting their hands dirty because they do not think they are qualified to do curriculum work. They would be okay if this initiative just died like so many others in education. How are we working with this group? First, by showing them they know more than they realize. We are taking small steps through each standard to guide them through the curriculum work.

The third group is the one that gets it. They have the big picture view and are comfortable with the standards and how important our curriculum is. How are we helping this group? Honestly, just by making sure they have the proper resources and staying out of their way. We are hoping this group will continue the dialogue with some of their colleagues from the other groups.

Honestly, we face these same situations working with our students. We have groups at different levels, and they need to be challenged at that appropriate level. The same steps need to be followed when we are implementing a new way of doing things with our staff. These adult learners are going to need the same patience, time and resources as the students in our classrooms. I think many times people assume that adults learn things a lot quicker than kids, but my experience tells me that assumption is incorrect.

Needless to say, we are moving along this journey as an entire staff. We will continue to provide the differentiated approaches to guiding the groups through this journey. We will have a lot of bumps along the way, but it is a journey we will face together.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why Do You Do It?

My head was spinning with all the new information. I was having a hard time remembering the different programs and/or applications that were just shown to me. To be honest, I could not have remembered half of it if you offered me a million dollars to try and list them. I do remember saying to myself, as our tech guy was quickly leaving my class before we both had to head out to lunch duty, "This could change the way I do things."

The last few years, I have found myself uttering this same phrase repeatedly. Saying it to myself as I attend an EdCamp, participate in a Twitter chat, share information with my colleagues, and participate professional development sessions. To be honest, I am constantly searching for new ways to do things in my classroom: new projects, apps, getting the kids to blog, and implementing essential questions more consistently are just a few things over the years.

I had a friend of mine, who is not a teacher, ask me the other day: "Why do you do it? You have 20 years in, you know your material, the kids generally like you, so why keep pushing yourself?" I honestly did not have a very lengthly response. It was not full of a lot of teacher jargon using the latest catch phrases to make me sound effective as a teacher. I had a great interview response I was prepared to give, but found myself saying this simple sentence: "Because it is what I ask my students to do."

I work hard to walk the talk in my classroom. I want my students to see me making mistakes, challenging myself to learn more, asking questions of myself and others. I want them to see that learning stuff is fun. That figuring out a problem that we did not previously know can make us smile from ear to ear. That hard work can lead us to where we want to go. Things may not be handed to us, but that does not mean we can not have it. We just need to work harder for it.

How does this all relate to me being part of the Compelled Tribe Blogging challenge? I guess I was looking for another way to challenge myself. I know the importance of blogging regularly, but unlike exercise, it is not something I have implemented regularly. I am hoping my participation in this monthly activity will encourage me to be consistent in my reflection. If you are looking for a great post on constantly looking to get better, see this post by Rich Czyz (@RACzyz on Twitter) Titled Plussing. I think his post does a better job explaining why I am joining this project better than I could.

Oh, and what were the things our school's tech guy was showing me? How about Symbaloo, Desmos, and the latest search/citing choices through Google. If you have not taken a look at these, you really should. But be forewarned, you will have a headache from all of the new information. But, if we are doing it push ourselves and our students, then it is a pain worth getting.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

My "Glass" Classroom

I love being inspired by other people. I love learning about the latest pedagogy, website or app to use in my classroom. Being a connected educator allows me to learn anytime anywhere.

The latest chance for me to implement the above mentioned scenario was this week when I noticed the topic on the weekly Twitter chat #Hacklearning. The topic was about creating a Glass Classroom. I was immediately interested in this topic. I have been implementing a few new ideas to try and increase the transparency in my classroom.

The first way is by increasing my use of Google Classroom. I am fortunate that all of the students have accounts for Google Drive. This allows us to utilize Google Classroom daily. I was able to find a way, with a lot of help from our tech guy, to link the assignments I put on Google Classroom to a google calendar that parents can access. My ultimate hope is that they sync this calendar with their own. Ideally, this would be great to have on their smartphones so they are updated instantly. I know I have some students that have done this to help with their organization. Sure beats the small spiral notebook I carried around with me in school!

Secondly, I have started diving into essential questions more in my classroom. My students were asked to spend a few weeks thinking about an essential question centered around the topic we are working on. For example, my Algebra students were working on factoring polynomials. As a result, I was asking them to consider a time in life when breaking something down, or simplifying it, can help us better solve a problem. I was thrilled with the responses I received. They ranged from a discussion of breaking down major league baseball to how a doctor breaks down symptoms to attempt to cure a patient. I am hoping to share these responses with you next week after I check with the authors.

I am also in the process of having the Blogger option made available for our 7th and 8th grade students. I am hoping this platform will give the students a platform to share their thinking and learning with a wider audience. This venture has taken a little longer than I would have liked because of administrative rights within the server. I am hopeful in the near future to be able share my students' thinking with you.

So, with all of these additions, do I have everyone on board? Absolutely not. I just had two students last week as me, rather disbelievingly, "You put our assignments on Google Classroom?" In addition, with my linking the assignments daily to a calendar, I still have a parent that will claim they were not made aware of a project due date. I am always looking to improve communication with everyone and feel the above additions are going to help me achieve that.

How do you share what goes on in your Glass Classroom? I would love to hear from you...

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Elephant in the Room

During our last PLC (Professional Learning Committee) meeting a couple of Tuesday's ago, I started a discussion with our math members about creating our own math curriculum. See, our district does not have one. Well, that is only partly true. We do have one, but it is basically copied from other districts, or just photocopied from the book company that we purchased our last book series from. I would really like to begin creating our own math curriculum. One that deals with the students we teach in our community. One that is put together by the experts in our school.

So, I started the discussion about creating a curriculum. Silence. I mean, utter silence. The kind of silence you "hear" when something really appalling just got spoken. I was momentarily taken aback. Individually when I spoke to several people, they agreed that we do need a curriculum. One that is homegrown by the teachers in the school would be idea. Now, however, that we are all together, there was silence. Do I just move onto the next thing on my agenda, or face the elephant in the room?

Well, I quickly decided that I should address the elephant in the room. I began asking questions: What are our concerns? Why the hesitation? Was I wrong with my assumption that a homegrown curriculum was important to the group? More importantly, I spent a lot of time listening. I addressed concerns when they came up. I tried to smooth things over when appropriate as well. I just wanted to keep the conversation going, hoping that if everyone's concerns were aired, we could then move closer to start work my curriculum idea...

As the meeting was winding down, I asked if at our next meeting we could meet with our grade partners to begin listing the skills that we feel our students should master by the end of each grade. This was met with quick agreement, so I could not wait for the next PLC meeting...

That meeting quickly arrived, and it was time to get to work on our "instructional map". I learned during the first meeting that many did not think they were qualified to do curriculum work, so I decided to omit that word from the meeting. The grade partners moved desks and began discussing what topics they felt should be mastered. It was great hearing the discussions that were going on. I think this was the first time, for some, that they actually shared with someone what they felt were important skills.

The Special Ed teachers enjoyed the process as well because they could join the group(s) where they taught. They also mentioned that this process is going to be very helpful for them so they can zero in on skills of their students in a more individualized way.

This meeting quickly ended before we could finish. We will, however, look to continue the next time we meet. I am seeing us taking the skills that we consider should be mastered in one grade, would be considered developing in the prior grade, and then considered introductory in the grade before that. For example: if we decide students should be able to multiply and divide fractions by the end of sixth grade, then we would expect that to be a developing skill in fifth grade, and introduced late in fourth grade.

I am seeing us then moving into creating different ways we will ask the students to demonstrate their understanding of each of these mastered topics. This should force us to discuss what we want our students to learn and how we want them to demonstrate that understanding. I think this "instructional map" work is going to be really important to our school and our students.

I am ultimately glad that I decided to address the "elephant in the room" a couple of meeting ago. I want to create a professional environment during our PLC meetings, but that can only happen if the people who attend feel they are being treated like professionals. I will keep you updated on our "instructional map" journey.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Am I Selling Out?

Well, it is official, I guess. My daughter signed the paper and put it in the mail. Weeks of asking her what she was going to do are finally over. Apparently she has known for weeks what she was going to do (we know that by what she was telling all of our friends), but not telling us "officially" until this weekend. If you have teenagers, you know exactly the game they like to play.

What was "the decision?" Yes, it does warrant lower case letters here. We are not talking LeBron James decision level, just an 8th grader deciding where she would like to go to high school...and it is not the local public high school...

This decision leaves me, in my opinion, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Yes, I am fully aware that this decision was not mine, but I am responsible for paying for it (along with my wife!) See, I have always been a proud card carrying member of my state's teachers' union. I will "discuss" with anyone how important a public education is. That teachers everywhere work very hard to give the best classroom experiences to every child. And my daughter would like to go to a catholic school?....

Her reasons are legit: the local high school is three times the size as the school she signed the letter for. For those of you familiar with New Jersey sports, our local high school is a Group 4. This is reserved for the largest schools in the state. Also, she really likes the religious classes they have to take (I guess the years of dragging her and her brother to church had an impact). And, I would agree, they do a great job of creating a real family atmosphere. All of these are definite positives....

But, the local high school is a quality school. I am all for school choice for students that are opting out of dangerous schools or even low-achieving schools. I have a problem with students that opt out of going to a school that there is nothing wrong with. I know choice is choice, but....

I know this is not about me, but why can't I shake this "selling out" feeling that I have? Am I now a hypocrite for all of those "discussions" I had with people about the importance of quality public education? How do I handle myself in future discussions if my own daughter does not "practice what I preach"?

Again, I know this is not about me. But, these are legitimate feelings/concerns that I have. I know my daughter will do a great job wherever she goes. I am very happy for her. I know, I understand the irony in that statement.

I guess I am using this space to try and work through my concerns. I have not changed my feelings about public school or public school teachers. I guess that commercial was right: "Having a baby changes everything." I just did not know the change would require eating a huge piece of humble pie.

Are there things you have eaten humble pie over since having children? Please share!