At the first of the year I put an offer out to any teacher in our district to “live their life” for a week. I was excited when a few teachers actually emailed and took me up on the offer! At first, they weren’t sure what to expect, and didn’t know if they really wanted someone from “The District Office” to spend all that time with them in their classroom. But as we worked side by side together, barriers were slowly broken down.
I am a coach. My role is to help and support teachers. I am not an evaluator! This is difficult to cut through when I’m housed at the “BIG HOUSE”. Rest assured, I have no authority or power, other than to motivate! Motivation for teaching comes in so many forms, but I think that when someone can provide a model and some feedback, it’s motivating to see that teaching need not be “rocket science” to be rigorous and engaging.
Each of the teachers I worked closely with made me feel so welcome in their classroom. I loved getting in there and working with the students! A few of the teachers took me up on my offer to be there all day, others just wanted me for part of the day. No matter how long I was in their classroom, I think we were able to do some really powerful teaching, and step back to assess What We’re Doing and Why We’re Doing It. That’s coaching, that’s what I do!
I was thrilled to get the feedback from the teachers that it wasn’t scary, and it was helpful. I was also thrilled that we found some ways for them to integrate content and get more bang for their buck throughout the instructional day.
So where do we go from here? We’re going through a MAJOR paradigm and culture shift in education these days. I’m trying to foster that shift one teacher at a time. The more we all understand that we’re in this together for students, the easier it will be.
So you’ve had a two-week hiatus from teaching, that’s a good thing! We all need time to recharge our batteries and refocus. What better time to do so than over a break? On the calendar, it’s a new year! In the classroom, it’s kind of like a new year, at least a fresh start. I hope you took time over the holidays and the break to forget about work, forget about the new standards, the new texts, the new technology, and the demands of teaching. I hope you took some time over the break to reflect on how much your students (and you) have learned this year, and think ahead to how much more they (you) will learn! I have never been one to make new year’s resolutions, however I do believe that there is a certain sentiment at this time of year to set new goals, and reach for the stars!
I was privileged enough over this break to see every member of my immediate family and more. Talk about reaching for the stars, that’s not an easy feat with everyone spread out across the United States! And as I interacted with all of my family, I considered what goals I have for myself, as well as my dreams for my daughter, and all children. I spoke with teacher friends, teenagers, young children, my peers, as well as my 98-year-old grandfather-in-law. These conversations reminded me that we all have the desire to do better, be our best, but our paths to do so take on many curves and bends. This photo of my daughter and her great grandfather captures the essence of how different generations interact with one another and how we don’t have to be the same or “equal” to learn from one another. She is 6 months old, he is 98 years old, not equal by any means. These two look at one another with inquiry and curiosity, she can’t talk yet, but I know she’s thinking when she looks at him. She might not understand everything he says yet, but I know she’s soaking it all in!
This made me think about teaching and learning. We want all of our students to do well, do their best, but how they achieve that doesn’t always look the same. Do we model what inquiry and curiosity looks, feels, and sounds like? Do we consciously acknowledge that they are watching us all the time? Do we think that they are listening when we speak about them? What’s best for one, isn’t always best for another. Fair isn’t always equal. Our students deserve fairness in their education. As you return to your classroom, keep this in perspective. Be sure you check in with yourself, and ask “Am I being fair?” We often say, “Life’s not fair, so that’s not realistic.” But, life isn’t equal for everyone either. Mathematically speaking, Equal means “the same as” and my life is not the same as anyone’s. My life is unique to me and I don’t want it to be equal to other’s. Students are not all the same. Students are all able to achieve!
What is one thing you can do each day in your classroom to be more fair? What path will you choose to be your best? What path will you help forge for your students to be their best?
How do we fit it all in with the time we have?
This has been a HOT topic lately, well, always, but even more as we’re feeling the pressures of district initiatives, individual school initiatives, new standards, technology, new resources, and all the while wanting to do what’s best for students!
Today our TEaM Math session with teachers seemed to go really well. If you think otherwise, please give some feedback! We have so many AWESOME teachers working very hard, and I think today they might have had the realization that they are working harder than they need to in some circumstances. The old adage, “Work smarter, not harder.” continues to be what I strive to help teachers with. It wasn’t until I stepped outside my classroom, and the classroom altogether that I saw more efficient ways to “Get it Done” and “Make it Happen”! I specifically took this position so I could help teachers with this. How often do you have an opportunity to see others in action? How often do you have a conversation with another teacher about how instruction is delivered rather than what? If you’re always so wrapped up in your own classroom, do you really get to reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it THAT way?
When we see a dynamic lesson occurring, do we stop and think about the planning and prep work that went into making it happen that way? Do we ask that teacher who executed the dynamic lesson, “How did you plan for this? What is your planning process?”
There will always be fires to put out, and there are always going to be circumstances beyond our control (we deal with people), but, do we harness the power of what IS in our control (focused planning, time management, purposeful lessons) and make that our 80%? Do we consider what IS in our control in our classrooms to MAKE IT HAPPEN?
The time issue is uncontrollable, , the day is still only 24 hours long, and the school day is still only 6-7 hours long, so what are we doing with the time we have? That my friends, is TOTALLY within our control!
Do you ever feel like you are juggling a ton of balls and if one drops, everything else will drop too? Have you ever felt like you are working your tail off only to continue to hear what else you need to juggle? If so, then we are partners because I feel like I’m juggling a lot now and the people I work with are too! While my juggling act is trying to juggle my career and being a new parent and continue to put my all into both, I feel and see everyday the juggling act of teachers! I’m kind of stealing this idea from my friend, Heather Rollings who did a fantastic job leading us in a professional development experience today, titled Juggling Act! I don’t know about everywhere, but my guess is that most places in education right now are in a time of great change. We have common core state standards, new resources, new technology, and we are expected to use it all with students to prepare them for their future!
“It is through the winds of change that you find your true direction.”
WOW, that speaks loudly to me! You?
While I like change, I know it’s hard for many. Sometimes we’ve been doing something for so long, we don’t realize that there’s a better way, or a more effective way, or we’re afraid to change because what used to work, got results. But something has to give!!!! Education is this incredible gift, a free one too in this country, and we can’t burn out teachers, burn out students, or misinform parents because if we continue to do what we’ve always done, that is exactly what might happen (I fear) Then where will we be?
What if someone told you there was a way to get everything done in your instructional day and you didn’t have to add more time?
What if there was a way to reach all the students in your classroom without creating a different lesson plan for each child? (which by the way, for a period of time in my classroom career, I did that)
What if someone told you it was OKAY to stop doing something? Wow, that one is huge, how liberating would that be?!
What if someone offered to work alongside you in your classroom to help find solutions to the problem of juggling it all and trying to fit it all in?
Well, friend, if you are reading this, then you just might get what you wish for! I love my job, I love teaching and I love learning, but I don’t love feeling the stress that weighs people down when they are working so hard and not getting results or feeling overwhelmed. I remember that feeling as a classroom teacher too well, and when an opportunity arose to leave it and try something different, I did. But not everyone gets that opportunity. So, I’m proposing something to teachers, it might work, it might not! But we will never know if we don’t try!
Here’s my offer:
I would love an opportunity to try some of this awesome new technology and harness the power of what it can do by teaching actual students and documenting the process. See the downside to my job is I don’t have students or a classroom to try things on!
I would also love the opportunity to work alongside a classroom teacher for a week immersed in the daily life of the classroom in 2013. While I don’t think I’ve forgotten what it’s like in the classroom, I know that a lot can change in 6 years, so maybe what I thought would work, won’t anymore, but again, I won’t know if I don’t try. Again, I would be another teacher in the room, planning, teaching, collaborating, and documenting this process to share.
If you are interested, please email me!
Okay, so I’ve been MIA on this blog for awhile. Shortly after my last post I went out on maternity leave 6 weeks early to welcome my beautiful little girl into this world! My summer was spent learning how to be a new mom (which I’m still learning new things EVERYDAY), and about a month ago I dove back into my work as a math coach! So, here we are, it is almost report card time for the first quarter of our school year in my district. Report cards, sigh, always seem to be a bone of contention with teachers, and parents since we transitioned from the traditional percentage/letter grade system to a standards based system.
We have been on this journey for 5 years now and while I understand certain frustrations out there with the standards based report card, (technicalities, not pedagogy) I also firmly believe that it IS a better way! For one, I came from a place where we used standards based and I see how it benefits students to know what is expected and how they are developing in an area, but I also clearly understand the descriptive feedback that is required for standards based reporting. Lastly, it’s research-based! I know this isn’t the traditional way the general population has been accustomed to being “graded”, but it just makes sense! Let me give you this analogy; My daughter was born six weeks premature. Every time we visited her in the NICU, they would show us important numbers, and in addition to that the doctors and nurses explained what those numbers meant, and what we were looking for to show signs of her improvement. And that was important for me to understand how close she was to being able to come home with us. I don’t see teaching and learning as anything different. With traditional percentage/letter grades and no descriptive feedback, all it is is a number. This doesn’t describe exactly what a student knows and can do, and it doesn’t provide feedback on how to get better. Students and parents need descriptive, specific feedback so they know not only where they stand, but also how to improve. Coaching is all about providing feedback for improvement. Think of sports, the coach doesn’t tell the kids, “We lost today, see you at the next game.” He tells them to show up for practice and what they are going to work on so they can win the next game!
We’ve had A LOT of conversations about how to use a standards based report card, and how to complete it, unfortunately there hasn’t been the shift in thinking yet about looking at teaching and learning for improvement. This is a process, a journey, and until we begin to think about what the standard requires, what evidence will show that, (rubrics are necessary) and providing feedback for improvement, this report card will continue to be a thorn in teachers’ and parents’ sides.
So as you are getting ready to complete your report cards as a teacher, I urge you to think about what each of your students CAN DO, and give them some descriptive, specific feedback that will help them improve.
If you are a parent, as you receive your child’s report card, I urge you to ask these 2 simple questions of your child’s teacher,
1) What can my child do well?
2) In areas where my child is developing, what can we do to help him/her improve?
We are all in this together! It’s not about passing and failing, it’s about teaching and learning for a lifetime. This has always been my passion, and now that I have a precious little girl, rather than just labeling her with numbers and letters, I want her to hear what she is able to do, what she does well, and know what she needs to improve and HOW she can do so! We all should want that for ALL children!
It has been a busy past few months! We wrapped up our school year with professional learning opportunities for teachers of grades 3-5 on implementing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, as well as some sessions with kindergarten teachers. All of our session were well attended and I think the conversations were worthwhile. While we still have many questions, and teachers have many concerns and anxieties about teaching with these new standards, I truly believe that these standards will be powerful for our students as they develop into critical thinkers and problem solvers. It’s difficult to be at the end of a school year and think ahead to the next school year when all teachers really want to think about is the summer break they’ve worked hard for. However, our teachers in this district continue to be excited about another year and even with all the concerns and anxieties, they continue to put students first! So as teachers were cleaning up their classrooms, closing up closets, and packing away resources for the summer, my partners and I have been busy planning our professional learning opportunities for the summer!
We have a jam packed June and July, but that’s not such a bad thing as it will get me that much closer to my due date with this baby girl arriving in August! This year we adopted a new math textbook, and we are thrilled about the resource our teachers (majority) chose. Our district went with Investigations in Number, Data, and Space. We had our first session yesterday with half the day training with a Pearson rep diving into Investigations, and the second half of the day my partner and I led continuing to look at CCSS implementation, problem solving, and integrating the use of digital portfolios in math workshop. Based on the feedback we received thus far, the teachers were a little overwhelmed, but overall excited and just hungry to get their own Investigations materials to absorb all of the “newness” of this resource. While implementing digital portfolios is very new, and only a few of the teachers in this first session had used traditional portfolios before, their response to that part of the session was positive. Teachers shared in my own excitement about how powerful digital portfolios can be, while they also have valid concerns about storing students’ work, publishing it on the web, and complete strangers having the ability to view students’ work online. It’s a different world we live in, however I do believe students’ safety has to be a priority as we continue implementing technology.If you have been using digital portfolios I’d love to hear from you how you implemented, where you store them, and what mini lessons you taught students in getting started.
How was the end of your school year? Are you winding down for the summer or revving up to learn more?
What is the 80/20 rule to you? Do you prioritize your day by what’s most important and spend 80% of your time focused on that, while 20% of your time is spent on less important things? Here’s a thought I came across while catching up on some professional reading, how you spend 80% of your time and effort should directly align to your vision, if it doesn’t then maybe you need to rethink what you’re doing. As my colleague and I constantly ask, What are we doing and why are we doing it? This is our mantra and it should be every educators’ because we don’t have time to waste. I say this not because of a test we need to prep for, but because our society moves at a very fast pace and our students need to keep up with that pace. Time is a precious commodity that we are constantly trying to get more of, especially in classrooms. I’ve recently been thinking about this A LOT, because I sense the frustration and exhaustion of teachers when I visit schools. Are we spending our time wisely or are we just spinning our wheels asking for more time from our colleagues, administrators, and students that they can’t give us?
I have 2 suggestions for re-thinking how we spend our time in schools. Here you go:
1) Follow the 80/20 Rule: Spend 80% of your time on what matters most, what aligns to your vision, and what is at the core of your business. Otherwise you lose sight of what you value. How you spend your time and money conveys to others what you value most. What do you value most in your school?
2) Flipped Classrooms: I recently researched this idea and learned more about it myself and was I surprised to find out it was more than just telling students to watch a video for homework. The basic concept of the Flipped Classroom is aligned with the 80/20 rule. In general, we currently spend so much time in the classroom directly telling students what to learn, how to learn, and when to learn that they never actually get the time to learn. (80% of our time is spent lecturing/directly teaching). In a flipped classroom this idea is reversed, the lecturing is done via a video created by the teacher (preferably) that students watch for homework and then the learning happens when they come to class and are immersed in authentic learning, questioning, and collaborating with the teacher and other students. While I don’t think this model is appropriate for all lessons or grade levels, I do believe that beginning in upper elementary, say 3rd grade, students, parents, and teachers can benefit from this model. If doing the learning is what we value most, then we should be giving students 80% of class time to do it. Shouldn’t the time students have with the actual teacher be spent on the most valuable aspect of learning? I guarantee no student has ever said, “Mr./Mrs. ________ helped me listen to lectures like no other teacher could.” But I do know first hand that students have said, ” Mr./Mrs. ________ really made me think by asking me questions that helped me understand what I was doing.”
I offer every educator who reads this blog this challenge…. For 1 week, take note of what you are doing 80% and 20% of your time spent with students!
I cannot physically provide you more time, but I can help you find more time by reflecting on how it is spent.