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!