A New Way of Thinking #sol18

$_57.jpgA New Way of Thinking #sol18

October 2, 2018

It’s that time of year.  When basic addition results in this equation:  Student Learning Goals +  Data Collection = Teacher Stress and Low Self Esteem.   Now,  I’m a literacy specialist not a math teacher, but these are the types of conversations I heard during the last week.

” We can’t set a goal that 100% of our students meet this goal,  I know students who won’t be able to.”

” I think this student is low on fluency (insert comprehension or spelling)”

The actual truth is that any one or all of these statements might be true, but today I switched my own thinking about these statements.  When we think about the three legged stool of RtI, we might call to mind the tiers 1-3,  classroom instruction, differentiated instruction, or special education.  Those are all means to assisting students in exercising their potential or getting to grade level or even progressing, but what are the real legs of our success.

When we consider who might reach our lofty goals or our measured goals, which students are more likely to succeed?  Perhaps we are asking ourselves the wrong questions.  It is less about the deficits of the students and more about our scaffolds, instruction, and assessment.  When we create a partnership between the students, ourselves, and our resources, we elevate what each might do.

Let’s consider.  First there’s the data. We collect it statically, actively, anecdotally, scientifically, through standards based assessments given with fidelity, and given to us by others whom we may or may not know.  All data is taken at one moment in time by one human in a situation.  Data has power to reveal and occasionally just encourage us to seek more data.

Students bring their experiences, perceptions, and knowledge to the equation; their mindset for learning, their challenges behaviorally, emotionally, and experientially.  The students bring whatever situations they were in and experienced before we were their teachers.  All of those things are mostly beyond us.

We, however, bring to the equation our considerable experience, our research, our knowledge, our colleagues, our ingenuity, our compassion, and our considerable grit.

So we, as educators, have the largest margin for change.  Honestly, we are the only things we really can change.  So let’s do it.  How?

Updating our toolkit.  Toolkits will vary by teacher, grade level, student population, and content.  When you think about your primary presenting difficulties of your students, think what would be helpful?  If students are having difficulty writing leads, perhaps shorter lessons on just leads,  author mentors of leads in the genre you are writing, different ways of presenting lead including visual and auditory, short and more extensive.

Updating our mindset.  I don’t know what is in your heart or mind, but we can all use a little (lot) can-do spirit, not just for ourselves, but our students.  When I began thinking about writing this, I imagined that our general difficulty with goals for students is far less about what we think about the student capacity and far more about what we consider about our own abilities as educators.  That’s a very hard truth and I also imagine some will not agree.  However,  if I truly believe that everyone’s capacity for learning is fairly limitless, then I also should believe that my ability to learn to assist that capacity is limitless as well.

Digging in.  A very large part of success is actually failure.  While I could Malcolm Gladwell here,  perhaps it is true that we just have to keep attempting different approaches until one works and then again when we set a new goal with a student or that approach times out.  I’m not going to lie here.  Those attempts and the generation of those ideas are exhausting.  That’s when we should help ourselves to the following tools:

Data collection – it will tell us what is working and how it is workin

Our colleagues in real Life– Our colleagues have had difficulties and ideas.  They have attempted things, read things, and are fully prepared to provide us with new perspective, fresh legs, and encouragement.

Our virtual colleagues are invaluableDebbie Miller, Lucy Calkins, Clare Landrigan, Tammy Mulligan,  Jennifer Serravallo, and I are in constant communication.  Sometimes that communication is one sided.  They tell me things from their writings, their blogs,  their tweets.  Occasionally,  I actually hear them speak or speak to them directly.  Along with them,  I have a cohort of practitioners who encourage me through social media.

So there you have it.  It’s not them,  it’s us… but in a good way.  We have power.  Power to adapt,  to grow,  to change, to attempt.  To speak truth.  To fail.  To notice and definitely to succeed.  I love a scene in the movie Eat Pray Love  where she’s encouraged to cross over, attraversiamo.  Just give it a go.  What’s the worst that could happen?  My darlings,  what is the best?

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Rock in my Shoe #sol18

Rock in My Shoe #sol18

March 17, 2018

I click off the television via the remote between us. The house is silent then. I can hear the clock in the kitchen’s rhythmic ticking. It’s so dark. Potential blog post run across my consciousness like oranges on a conveyor belt. That might work, what would come next, too personal, possibly. A cold nose touches my face. It’s not time yet. I look at the clock. 5:00am. I put my feet on the cold floor. Every part of me protests. The two of us head out into the dark. In the predawn, we know the route. It’s a good thing because my mind is stuck in yesterday, replaying and replaying. I shake my head. Think of blog posts, think of recipes, think of grocery lists. No, that doesn’t work, it’s still there. My grandmother used to say you’ve got something stuck in your craw. I do. It’s lodged in there tight like a rock in my shoe. She senses the shift as if I am actually limping. I consider all the would, should, coulds. Why? They aren’t going to do anything now. Next time… I think. Next time. But next time, I’ll still lead with my heart and my enthusiasm. I will still think, you’re with me, right? I’ll be fully me. It would be easier if everyone else spoke fluent Susan. However, that is not the case. We turn around and head home. Gentle brown eyes look up at me as if to say. Just keep moving forward. That rock twinges, but we press on.

Nudge #sol18

trh_nudge_artwork_wide-b9839d2a82c441c2574e4ae46edcb263fc5bfc03-s700-c85.jpgNudge  #sol18

March 14, 2018

A nudge is a gentle push in the right direction. This thinking is informed by a few things.  I’ll let you in on them in the beginning.  I am a big fan of podcasts.  This podcast,  Nudge:  Ted Radio Hour/ NPR, was recommended to me by a member of our fourth grade team.  It’s a longer podcast nearly an hour, but can be broken to shorter stories.  These stories contain snippets of Ted Talks and discussion with their subjects:  Richard Thaler, the author of Nudge and Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset.  I also have been considering the change model outlined in the book Switch.

So what does the author of Nudge say about change?  If you want to encourage people to do something,  make it easy.

The authors of Switch claim change is hard.  There are two systems at play in all change for folks:  the emotional system and the rationale system.  That’s why people can make a big decision like marriage, but have difficulty with diets.

I believe I am a professional nudger and change agent.  It’s a wonder that anyone ever talks to me.  My husband says about me pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. I would say,  hear that tiny voice over your shoulder that says give it a go. What’s to lose?  

It’s true I want change.  Sometimes the educators and students I work with do not.  That’s not it actually.  It’s partially that they don’t understand what change might do to improve  their instruction and they believe that what they are currently doing is working for their students.

It’s might also be about risk.  Risk is hard to take,  difficult to try.  Risk is messy.

The book Switch poses the miracle question,

“Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?

Two things about this.  The changers have to see a problem, something they want to change. Then the changers have to be able to envision what better looks like.    Clare Landrigan wrote in her blog a few weeks ago about her own miracle question,  If successful we will…  That envisioning, drawing the light on what we view as success,  might be all we need.  That glimpse of what is wanted draws us toward it.

Here is my formation of this question,  What is the first small sign you would see, that would make you think “well, something must have happened,  the problem is gone“.  This question doesn’t ask you to describe the miracle itself,  it asks to identify the tangible signs that the miracle happened.  I also like this question,  When was the last time you saw just a little bit of the Miracle,  even if just for a short time?

That’s what I look for,  that little bit of the miracle,  the bright spot.  My friends,  if we are going to change anything,  students’ writing volume,   reading engagement,  curriculum,   school culture,  we have to start with that bright spot.  We have to recognize them, understand them, keep them in our field of view.

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img_1716To my writing community of Slicers,  thank you.  To Two Writing Teachers and all involved,  thank you for creating this community.  This day 14 of a 31 day Slice of Life Writing Challenge.  Read some amazing writing here.

 

 

 

in sync

FullSizeRender (1)In Sync #why not Wednesday 

September 27, 2017

At the start of a school year,  it takes some time to get in sync… in sync with the routine,  with your new students, and with your teaching team.  These lovely ladies are getting in the groove on day 4!  While dressing alike is probably not that unusual,  showing up in nearly the same dress by accident might indicate that they are on the same wavelength about more than just their fashion sense.

So how do we get in sync in our building, our team, or in our classroom  at the beginning of the year?

Possible idea 1. Spend some time getting to know each other.  Laugh,  talk about TV,  have lunch together,  take a walk, drop by for a chat.  You get the idea.  Don’t make everything all the time about work with your co-workers and with the students.

Possible idea 2.  Give yourself a break.  We don’t need to launch in at break neck speed every single time.  Wait, is that just me?  Take time to get your bearings,  read the environment.  Even if it’s the same old environment, it always seems to change as the new year start.

Possible idea #3  Review. Give a thought and some good conversation to what went really well last year and … what you might do differently.  Reflecting is good for the soul and the craft. 

I might wear my black dress tomorrow. 

 

 

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?

 

School of Fish

School of Fish  6aa159e009f7ef5cd90cec5b87277ee5.jpg

March 3, 2017

I know a young girl full of exuberance.   She’s young for her grade, perhaps a little dreamy.  On standardized tests,  she might not look like she’s a successful student.  She might stop in a reading assessment to tell you how this part of the story reminds her of this other book she read with her mom last week and … she especially likes stories that have giraffes in them, while the timer ticks on.  She might draw a picture of a spider on the test of high frequency words.  She might stop you in the middle of a timed fluency test to ask if you noticed her new shoes, tell you where she got them, and wonder if they would look good on you.  

Today we had a little meeting with her teacher and others to talk about how we might help this student and here’s what her teacher taught us.  “She’s great,”  the teacher said.  “She loves school and life.”  “She’s happy and interested and interesting.”  “It took me a few months to get to know her,” said her brilliant teacher,  “but when I did,  I didn’t worry anymore.”  

“You see,”  she said,  “this little friends swims in our school of fish on the side,  checking out all that passes by and commenting on it for all of the rest of the fish.”  I would add that they in turn appreciate that and accept her for her contribution.  
It was a good lesson for us today.  Data is important, but there is data and there is data.  This data,  seen with the heart,  will help this little fish succeed.  Her caring teacher will nurture her this year and pass her on to another next year.  Her parents who know her so well, will encourage her individuality.  And the rest of us,  we will remember that standards are wonderful,  data is terrific,  but each time we meet,  it’s just about that little swimming fish and how to keep her safe,  happy,  and moving forward.  

 

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