wisdom from the truly fantastic four #sol17

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Wisdom from the Truly Fantastic Four

June 20, 2017

Today was “Step Up” Day at our school.  Students move up to their next class, meet their teacher, and we have a step up ceremony for the fourth graders who are moving on to middle school.

Our fourth grade team for the last several years has started the year with a fantastic four theme.  Each plays one of the members of the Fantastic Four, imparts their wisdom, and defeats “Dr. Doom” who represents all of our negative thoughts.  It’s a very positive mindset message and has been very effective for our fourth grade.

Today at their step up, the teachers reminded the students of those ‘fantastic four’ skills.  Somehow today as we let them go and say goodbye to a treasured teacher, these words hit home to me.

Ms. Fantastic, of course, has the ability to stretch herself.  The gift of flexibility.  Not everything goes the way we plan or the way we might want.  Flexibility gets us through many situations.

The Human Torch represents energy, but not the kind we get from too much caffeine.  Energy that comes from within.  A positive mindset.  The knowledge that when we put our mind to things we can accomplish much.

The Invisible Woman.  When things are transparent, there is clarity, but also truth.  Truth is an important quality.  Be true to yourself.  Be truthful with others.

The Thing… strength.  The strength to persevere when things are difficult.  To push our thinking, our work, ourselves to achieve.

My friends, the fourth grade teachers spoke of these things with their students in fall and today, but more importantly, they represented them to all of us each day of this year.

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Breaking Up is Hard to Do #SOL17

Hobie-Sailing-St.-Thomas-1200x800Breaking Up is Hard to Do

June 6, 2017

It’s that time of year again.  The number of school days is dwindling down to small double digits.  This is when the student begin to break up with us.

A veteran fourth grade teacher I know says each of them finds their own way to break up.

It’s not a conscious thing, but it’s necessary, inevitable, and kind of hard.

Each year that student’s homeroom teacher spends the better part of the year learning each of her student’s learning profiles,  making them feel comfortable, pushing them to their discoveries as  learners and then we tell them to get out of the car.  There really isn’t another choice in the matter, but breaking up is hard to do.

A little preschooler after visiting the kindergarten class wipes out for days on end.  I don’t want to go to kindergarten he says.  What he means is,  you made it warm and comfortable here.  I know how to try here.  I know where the edges are.  I’ll have to learn them all over in my new place.

The fourth graders ask questions of the middle school counselors.  Will my teacher know me? or a fourth grade version of that.  Who will help me if I need help?  We say, You’re ready!  Look at you!  You’ve got this!

Did we prepare them for life beyond us, whomever the us is?   Did we teach them that they are their teachers?  Did we show them that they know how to figure out what needs to be figured out when it needs to be figured out?  Did we teach them how to let go and how to grab on?  And my favorite question,  how will we know when they have learned it?

So as we let go,  let’s talk to them, all of them, about letting go and moving on… about strength and grit and how much they are ready.  But let’s ask them,  how will you know you’re ready?  Because they are the captains of their own boats and it is time to set sail.

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Tear It Down (Coming Soon)

Tear it Down (Coming Soon)

May 30, 2017

The gas station on the corner that I pass every day is torn down. It had a Dunkin’ Donuts inside. The gas was always expensive. I think it used to have a car wash. I rarely got gas there. One morning there was a sign that a new station was coming. The next morning in its place was rubble. Today along with the two backhoes is a chain link fence and a sign that says coming soon. Coming soon…
We hold on to a lot of things. As teachers, we hold onto books we love, lessons we are familiar with, assessments that we have always done…we have always done. When things become actions we can do without thinking, sometime we do them without thinking. I like to think I’m not too bad with change. In my career, I have had a great deal of change come upon me not entirely expected. Perhaps we all think we are good with change. Granted we change those students in front of us each and every year. But deep change, I’m-going- reconsider-what-I’m actually-doing change might be more difficult.

This week I’m going to thinking about what I should tear down and what’s coming soon.

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Hard Stop.

the-end-is-nearHard Stop.

May 24, 2017

 

I not a big fan of summative assessments.  I tend to look at everything formatively.  This is partially due to the fact that I’m not really ever finished with students until the go to middle school.  

What I have been thinking a lot about lately is the Miracle Question.   If your students accomplished this,  what is the first thing you would notice?

When I begin to collect the end of year data,  I seem to approach it in a different way each year.  Maybe it’s the lens I have at the moment, perhaps it’s a reflection of my goals for the year.  This year I’m thinking about curriculum changes, staff changes,  focus of instruction changes.  How well does the data reflect that?

As a school and as a district,  we have benchmark summative goals for grade levels.  They are arbitrary, but based on sound developmental data.  Certain reading levels, fluency levels, your standard benchmarks.  That’s what worries me.  That we view all of this data in our rear view mirror.  A hard stop.  The end.

What a big huge waste of time!  So…  perhaps we should get from it what works for us.   What works for us as practitioners.  What works for us as facilitators.  What works for us as learners, both teachers and students.  So what works for us?

When looking at the developmental reading assessment or any other assessment that gives us a reading level, fluency, miscues, and some level of comprehension,  let’s look at the individuals and make instructional recommendations based on what we notice.  Also let’s look for classroom trends.  What do we notice that makes us consider our instruction, exposure, and opportunities?   What would it look like to master these measured skills in the “wild”?  What do each of these missed components tell us?
We could travel across all of the assessments in this manner, but let’s make the journey one of inquiry and not tedium.  Not a hard stop, but a comma.  A pause for reflection.  It’s so difficult to make time for that at the end of the year, but it’s precisely when we should.  Think about those next students and what we have learned that will benefit them.  Think about those current students and what we might send them on with to their new homes.  If you students accomplished (fill in the blank)  what IS the first thing you would notice?  

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Hope is Not a Tactic

hope 1May 23, 2017

Hope is Not a Tactic

 

Against my will  I watched the movie Deepwater Horizon over the weekend.  While this isn’t a blog to review movies,  I deeply recommend this movie.  For so many reasons, it made me consider myself as a teacher/leader and the response to intervention we do day to day.

In the movie,  the protagonist stood up to the BP executives and clearly stated things that he knows need to be fixed on this oil rig.  The BP executive follows him back to his office and asks,  what didn’t you say?  The protagonist responds,  running out of fuel as the plane tires touch the ground isn’t smart,  then he goes on to give an analogy and say, hope is not a tactic.

I was so struck by this… hope is not a tactic.  As I finish year end assessments,  final coaching meetings,  last intervention sessions with students,  am beginning to examine data, and provide evidence for my evaluation, I consider,  is hope my tactic?   Do I hope that all of the coaching, collaborating, meeting, teaching, assessing will turn into success for each student and their teacher? Do I really have a tactic as I move through my year and just now in the rush of the end, it feels less like a plan and more like a hope?

So  as I listen to student read each day over the course of this week,  student after student,  when I ask them, are you a better reader than you were in September,  they say, yes,  without hesitation.  They confirm it with their words,  their beautiful prosody,  the evidence so clearly of strategy… and pride.  So those mornings, when I got up at five to read something before I came to work so I could share it with a few teachers, that was a tactic.  When I spent 15 minutes in a room listening to students read day in and day out, that was a tactic.  When I poured over data and professional resources,  that was a tactic.  When I blogged my heart out for 3o days,  that definitely was a tactic.  So here’s to our tactics… and our hope.  May they continue to grow strong.

 

 

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rattlesnake footprints

raccoon tracksMay 10, 2017

Recently there was a news story about a child and his stepfather who were lost in a nearby woods.  When interviewed the child (around 8) said there weren’t any rattlesnakes or anything, but there were a lot of animals with feet.  

Isn’t that just like all of us children and adults,  we are looking for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad and then right in front of us is something amazing and inspiring? In my conjecture,  I suppose either the child was frightened and then realizing there wasn’t anything that was going to immediately kill him, began to enjoy his surroundings noticing footprints or the adult senses fear explained that there weren’t any rattlesnakes and did he notice those raccoon tracks.

So,  in our classrooms who is doing the noticing?  Are we bringing the horses to water and waiting for them to drink?  Do we understand the gradual release? Are we keeping in our minds and in hearts… and in our words where we are trying to go?  Are we keeping ourselves open to the possibilities?  Are we always the ones who are driving the instruction forward or are some of those amazing possibilities coming from our students?

 

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Every Word, Every Person, Everyday #sol17

IMG_8880Every Word,  Every Person, Everyday  #sol17

May 9, 2017

I usually post some sunny anecdote that puts me in a positive light and wraps coaching up in a neat package.  The truth is that day after day there are a lot of tasks,  a lot of humans, and frankly,  a fair number of problems.  I feel like my desk and my mind are an unfinished pile of ASAP to-dos.   Assessment season is upon us and 35 days left of school make the urgency of the work take front and center on the burners. But I digress.

One morning last week,  our superintendent sent out a yearly teacher appreciation email. He said we should highlight the amazing work that we have collectively done as we are a people who tend to focus on what hasn’t been accomplished yet.  Yep,  it’s not my accomplishments that keep me up at night, it’s those nagging what-ifs and so-should-haves.  Which brings me to my not-my-best-moment slice.

Last week was full of tough moments in the way that most days can be, along with funny moments and honestly, some WOW that-was-awesome moments, but one moment is hanging on me this morning like my own personal dark cloud.  In this season of assessments, my second grade intervention groups have taken the hit.  In the past month I have seen them a handful of times. Last Monday was a rare day when everything lined up.

I was explaining to the group about why I hadn’t seen them and why I wouldn’t in the future.  My head was clouded with the frustration of those words and thoughts when one of the students said, that’s great,  I don’t want to see you.  It’s boring to come here.  I’m more sensitive than I seem.  I sent him back to class.  I told him if he didn’t want to be here, he could return to class.  He was stunned.  He back tracked.  He said he didn’t mean it.  I sent him anyway.  He returned in a half hour, sent by his teacher to apologize.  I was with another group and sent him away again.  The next morning he came down before group and asked me,  am I coming with you today?  Of course,  I said… if you want to.  He returned and that was that.  So why am I writing to you about it today?

Friday,  I got it between the eyes from a teacher.  She said you used to care about teachers, now you care about students.  I was stunned then, but in the light of Tuesday, she’s partially right.  I care about students.  I wasn’t particularly caring to that second grader last week, but I care about students.  Can I care without being caring?

Last week,  I thought momentarily that I was helping that student to be kinder by showing him that his words affected me.  I was wrong.  What I should have been is receptive to his criticism, asking him to tell me more about that.  So many things about that…  I like to think I learn from my mistakes.  I like to think I accept that I make mistakes.  I hope that I try to break that mold of teacher in charge, quiet students.

What about the disquieting thought that it’s either/or  caring about teachers or students?  I probably do care about the students success more in some ways.  I can be the bridge across teachers for some students.  As our building faculty grows,  it’s harder to be there for all of the teachers.  I reach out to some.  I let others come to me when they want.  I generally let the student needs drive my collaboration with teachers.  But that teachers words, you care about students more than teachers, will stick with me.  I’ll be thinking about what that means for a long time.

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View from the Balcony #sol17

BalconyA View from the Balcony

May 2, 2017

I’ve been rushed lately or at least I feel rushed, like my to-do list is too long and I’m just racing through the days.  But today something slowed me down.  Today I was able to take in a view of our intermediate classrooms from the balcony so to speak.  I accompanied some consultants that were taking a quick view of our intermediate literacy block.  It was amazing to watch the reading workshops in action without having an agenda… or a role to play.   Clare referred me to an idea called ‘ watch from the balcony, lead from the floor’.   Think about how much we could learn, observe, think about when we just move through the classrooms and watch.

So today I moved through the intermediate classrooms in our building for just an hour or so during their reading workshop.  I moved quickly not staying too long in any one spot, but returning to see a little minilesson, small group, and a little independent work.  Most of these rooms, I’m in every single day.  During those days,  I have a purpose, a mission, goals.  Today,  I just watched.  Just looked.  The teachers were interested in what the consultants noticed.  No one asked me what I noticed, so the gems are my personal treasure.

I knew you all were amazing teachers but today I noticed…

Your students are listening.  They’ve learned the talk of reading workshop.  They can turn and talk, and really turn and talk.

You teach with ease.  You’re light on your feet.  You’re enjoying yourselves.  You know your stuff.

Everything in your rooms shows who you are as a teacher.  You treasure your anchor books you’ve shared.  You have a place for students to give feedback to you and each other.  You’re sharing yourselves with your students.

There’s trust.  The students trust you,  you trust them… and you all trust me.  No one hesitated for one second when I came and went from your room.  You smiled, the students smiled.  I smiled.

My smile was real.  I see the work that you’ve done.  The work that you’ve done with your students.  The work that we’ve done together.

I feel filled up.  I hope to take more of these side trips and I’m going to make sure you can take them too.

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small batch coaching #sol17

Smallbatch-300x300 Small Batch Coaching

April 18, 2017

I have been thinking a great deal about instructional coaching of late; having a coaching cycle in place in my role as a literacy specialist:  teachers I meet with weekly,  co-teaching in place with a few teachers to varying degrees of formality, PLCs I meet with regularly and semi-regularly.  Those are all great and working well, but this past week I was thinking about ‘small batch’ coaching.

So small batch can come in a few different forms, most successful  it has a connection to your underlying goals in your building, with your team, or in some cases, with your hidden agenda.  I admit it. Sometimes I have a not-so-hidden agenda.  I will say it outright when asked.  Here’s one example of a small batch/not hidden agenda.

I dropped by one day as a intervention teacher was lead teaching in a classroom.  My purpose was to ask her about intervention with a student for a conference later that day.  When I arrived in the classroom the class had just completed a read-aloud of The Mouse, The Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, a perennial classic for kindergarten.  IMG_8594That was wonderful, but then…  I saw this.

IMG_8592 I think it’s safe to say and will not surprise anyone who has worked with me that I immediately started thinking how I could suggest a change-up in this activity or even shift the students’ thinking myself.

The probable goal of this sheet was sequencing and the students all sat at tables coloring the paper waiting for permission to cut and then glue .  I said to the teacher,  I love this book!   … Another thing  you might have done is let the students interact with the book, create props and do a retell on their own.  Perhaps that would have gotten to your objective too,  sequencing strength.  Well, maybe next time…or words to that effect. 

I went on about my day and then as the students were going to lunch, they stopped by the literacy center.FullSizeRender

There before me were dozens of little mice complete with mouse ears and a very large construction paper strawberry.   The teacher had thought about it and given it a go right away.  The students were thrilled and eager to share what they had done.

Now, do I wish that the students had made the ears and the strawberry, and had props and such from the beginning?  Yes.   However, changing our practice, changing our stance, shifting our outlooks takes time.  Much like we scaffold and linger and try out with our students, we should be willing to move at that same pace with their teachers.

So here’s to small batches of coaching, gentle nudges.  May they be casual chat over coffee, a notice of something wonderful tried, an interesting website/article/video sent with a quick note, a drop in, and encouraging smile.  After all,  we are just giving it a go too.

new-slicer-badge

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for coordinating the Slice of Life Community.  Join or read more here.

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A Lesson Learned in Time #sol17

testSo make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time   Green Day

April 4, 2017

This is state testing week in fourth grade.  I have had my own little bunch to proctor, so it’s given me a little bit of technology free time to think as I watch the students work through the ELA assessment.  This all led me to contemplate scaffolds vs. rescuing,  student agency and the like at 11:30 or later last night.  I’m the one with test anxiety.  So in my fitful near sleep I hear Green Day do this.

Green Day  singing Camp Town Races to the tune of Good Riddance.  

The actual words to Good Riddance are these:

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life

Green Day was singing Camp Town Races,  I was hearing Good Riddance.  Green Day has probably sang Good Riddance more than 1,000 times so adapting the Camp Town Races lyrics to the Good Riddance score might not have been difficult for them.  Our students daily have to adapt what has previously been taught to new experiences.  And they do.  With or without us,  they continue to learn.  Some of what they learn is adaptive behaviors.

So when presented with the challenge of a generic grade level assessment taken on a computer, can they remember the tune and adapt it to new lyrics.  It seems easier than it might be.  Memory might make this task more difficult.

As I watch them working through the test questions, I think about the opportunities that we have given them during this year to ‘wallow in it’.  To get down into a problem and think their way out.  I begin to ask myself questions about my instruction.  Do I let them sit in it?  Do we work for their questions instead of answers to mine? During this year,  I’ve read many books and articles about scaffolding and rescuing.  Who is creating the space for students to think?

So here’s the question for us.  What do we do every day to prepare students for ‘the test’?  The test of new situations, problems to solve, new learning.

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