Tuesday April 26, 2016

Well, missed that deadline, huh?  Yesterday was a rough day.  I met with my administrator for my annual review and it sort of rocked my world.  We have had 4 principals in the past 5 years at my school.  One would think that this would negatively impact our school but quite the opposite is true.  We have a super strong staff and an impenetrable program.  I don’t think there are any signs that we have had this kind of turn over.

I work so hard to be sure that my students transition not just to my 5th grade class but also out of it.  They are headed to middle school next year so I am always aware of what skills I need to foster for them to be successful.  After meeting with my principal, I see that transitions happen all through life.  She is transitioning too.  She’s a little like the new kid in the class who arrived for the last month of school.  I am a pretty strong personality and have been taking care of business – which tends to be my modus operandi.  That has not been beneficial to her transition.

I will take that step back, I will imagine myself as a 5th grader and her as the new student.  She doesn’t want to be told how we do things here, she wants to learn how on her own.  I will be a helpful ‘classmate’ by letting her learn.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016 Long Weekends

Our district had some exchange days so we all got a four day weekend this past weekend.  It lined up perfectly with Candidate’s Day at the university my son will be attending.  We packed up and escaped the Colorado spring snow storm and headed east where we basked in the 75 degree days.  It was a great getaway for all of us, husband and son included.

Our son decided weeks ago to send in the deposit and commit to his school so this wasn’t a decision making trip.  We hadn’t been to campus in well over a year so it was good to touch base again.  He walked away after a day of prospective student activities feeling like he belonged.  He is happy about his choice, excited for the long list of engineering requirements (wow – and if you can be excited about that, more power to you!), and wishing August were around the corner.

So, what makes someone comfortable with a place?  He has no friends there, he didn’t share any long conversations with other students, no one from his high school goes there, and yet he was totally at ease.

At one of the meetings, parents were asking, “Other programs has coops and you do not.  Why would we choose you over them?” and “What is your ranking for students placed in high paying jobs upon graduation?” and “What is the average salary of your graduates?”  I don’t think any of those families belong at this university.  When we model for kids how to make decisions, we lay out the pros and cons, make lists, ask opinions of people we trust, look at the rankings and the data, and compare the heck out of our options.  Do we give the same time and attention to fostering the best decision making skill of all – your gut?

My 5th graders can and often do choose what middle school to attend.  When their parents ask me where I think their child should go, my response is always the same.  “Ignore the data and what you hear from all of your friends.  Take your child to all of their choices and then ask them which one felt right.”  The advice hasn’t let me down yet.

I should take my own advice more often.  Stop, tune into your heart, and then listen to it.  My son did and he couldn’t be happier.

Tuesday, April 12 – Teaching LSE Style

My daughter is spending the year studying abroad in London.  She is an ideal learner.  She loves to read, to discourse, and to learn.  It has been a great experience for me to have her experiencing a different kind of program as it pushes my own pedagogy.

Her program is one year long.  She has had two 12 week terms, the last one ending in early March.  Then she had a week off and now is in her study month:  no classes for a full month before students take one final exam for their year long class.  She was sure that all of the local students would go home and that the exchange students would travel.  She was shocked to find that the library has been packed to the gills for weeks now.  Students actually use this time to really study everything they have learned in the last 7 months.

When she called this past weekend, she was on fire with how much she was enjoying going over her notes from last fall.  She was proud of what she still remembered and understood but what really struck her was how she could enhance all of that with what she had learned since.  She was able to make connections between classes that she never would have had she been using the plug and chug method often seen in education.  Instead of cramming and memorizing and then performing on a test before moving on to the next set of data to cram and memorize and spit out, she is settling in and absorbing a year’s worth of learning and all its rich interconnectedness.

So, of course, I wonder how I can translate that to my own classroom.  I like the math program we are using now as it spirals as any good math program should, practicing skills that were learned earlier in the year.  But what about science?  And social studies?  We tend to compartmentalize those into units that we teach and then assess and then seldom return to.  I shared this thought with my team and brainstormed about what we could to connect the dots instead of leaving the dots in isolation.

Every year for the past few years we have talked of choosing a word or theme to follow throughout the school year.  And now we see the importance of that.  While we can’t circle back to revisit every topic in depth, we can keep reconnecting to it as we layer on new units as we see how everything is interrelated.  We decided to stop toying with it and choose our theme for next year.

We have thought of “tolerance”, and ‘grit’, or maybe ‘patience’.  Any other suggestions?

Tuesday April 5th, 2016

So, I don’t know about other schools, but ours is far short of adults to supervise before and after school on campus.  We have very little parking in our neighborhood as our community agreed that a larger playground was more important than a parking lot.  Therefore, each teacher must do three duties a week, acting as crossing guards around school.  I filled in for a teacher this past week on a Thursday morning and didn’t realize I’d be risking my life.

We have had some issues with parents not respecting the posted signs – primarily dropping their children off in the “No stopping or standing” zones.  We have handled this by sending out a kind and gentle reminder to offenders.  One particular dad has been a repeat offender.  He clearly has no intention of ever following the rules.  In fact, on this morning, he dropped his child (my student) off in the “No stopping or standing” zone right in front of me.  I held up my little stop sign so I could remind him of the law.  He rolled his window down and pulled up next to me.

“Hey there.  Just wanted to remind you that this is not a drop off zone.  You are free to pull up the block there to drop off M.”

“What’s wrong with dropping him off there?”

“Could you stop your car so you don’t roll over my feet while we talk?”

“Maybe you should move your feet so I don’t run over you!” were his last words as he roared off in his truck.

Wow.  I was stunned.

I have spent the last few days thinking about this in terms of how I can help my students learn that while we don’t have to agree with common rules and laws, we need to respect them for the sake of not creating chaos (or a child run over by a truck!).

Yet again, it isn’t about the fractions, the compare/contrast writing samples or the test on the Constitution.  Most of the critical things I teach my students are about how to be good humans.  How can I turn this situation into a teaching moment for my class about civic responsibilities?  I decided to pull out an old favorite, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky.  We are PARCC testing this week and this will be the perfect read aloud to get us ready for our class meeting on Friday on how we each can to do our part to make this world a good place for everyone, now and in the future.


SOL 2016, D31

It’s time for a final reflection.  This has been quite a month and I have to say that I am quite proud of myself for meeting the challenge.  I actually wrote and posted something every day – all 31 of them.  Even with the added challenge of spotty wifi during spring break, I pulled it off!!

But oh, what a learning curve.  It wasn’t until about Day 8 that I read the fine print defining a ‘day’.  Several of my first posts were published before midnight my time, the end of my day – not the end of a Slice of Life day.  But I am not in this for prizes.  I truly did this for the challenge of writing every single day.  I still got it posted by the end of my day.

It seemed like I was consistently the only frantic post late at night.  And then I would see that people were posting at 2am!  I felt so unorganized.   Was I the only one who wrote at night?  Around Day 10, I learned that many of you write your post the day before and then just post it when you get up (or in my western time zone, when I go to bed).  Ah – you pre-planners!!!  I was already in the habit of writing at night and reflecting on that day. It didn’t feel right to post tomorrow what happened today so I kept up with my late night comments.

And then, I am not kidding here so laugh with me not at me, I didn’t realize until about Day 22 that if you click on the blue ‘comment’ button on the bottom of the daily email from TwoWritingTeachers, you don’t have to scroll all the way down to find the comment bar;  it automatically takes you there.  Seriously?!?!  For someone who mostly posted late at night, that was A LOT of scrolling!!!  I get it now.  Game on for next year.  I’ve got the tricks down!

I really tried to do my 3 comments a day.  I truly read more than 3 posts every day.  I was nowhere near the hundreds that the comment challenge winner logged, but I did read a lot.

I need to insert here a sincere apology to all those who blog on blogspot.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to comment on your wonderful writing.  I know it has to do with the browser I am using but I am an old dog whose old Mac doesn’t like changing browsers. I couldn’t tackle that challenge.  So, if you were a blogspotter – I read what you wrote, I loved your words and your magic.  I just couldn’t leave you a written comment.

I actually enjoyed writing every day.  I found myself ‘writing’ throughout the day as something struck me as worthy of sharing.  I looked at the world through a different lens and was surprised by how that forced me to engage more thoughtfully.  I found myself trying to put words to what I saw instead of snapping a photo or just visually absorbing. Instead of being reactionary, I allowed moments to be soaked up.  I found more humor, more insight, more connection, more beauty and more meaning in the world around me.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone who responded to my posts.  You filled my soul in a way I really didn’t expect.  I guess I need to know that someone each day has heard what I have to say and, more importantly, acknowledged it.  That really blew me away.  I felt like I made friends this month with people who got me, who related to me, and who supported me.  I am so very grateful for that unexpected benefit.

Thank you all for filling my cup.