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Dear Colleagues and Bloggers,
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #10)
“Gravity – I can’t see you but I can feel your ever presence”
In the past two weeks, I have been absent from my reflections. As I paused long enough to ask why, I found that I feared the truth of my perceptions and the reality that they create in our shared world. The past few weeks have been surrounded by the sickness of family and friends, the death of a local hero, the mislabeling of information that determines “success” and the “high” of hope and optimism that tomorrow will bring a better day. This conflict of emotions have left me tired and cold.
During this time I have been left to question. Why do we work so hard for the particular? Through this questioning, I have once again been warmed by the sense of the reflection. I have come to learn that in the particular is the universal. By not letting the system of gravity change us, we instead change the system. In other words, in the fight for a specific or particular cause we are ultimately hoping to make a universal change for a better world. It is not the instant gratification we seek in our daily battles, but rather the idea that somehow and in some way our world will be better from our daily efforts. As the days get darker and the colder, I find that I need to reflect even harder to keep my internal fire burning. Fortunately, I don’t need to seek to far for inspiration. I am extremely thankful for my teachers and I am thankful for being apart our team. A team that is relentlessly focusing on the particular child, all the time knowing that we are ultimately fighting for a universal better world for all our children.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Finally from Marilyn Nelson,
Thank you for these tiny particles of ocean salt, pearl-necklace viruses, winged protozoans: for the infinite, intricate shapes of submicroscopic living things.
For algae spores and fungus spores, bonded by vital mutual genetic cooperation, spreading their inseparable lives from equator to pole.
My hand, my arm, make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore, for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.
Instructional leadership is essential in K-12 schools. What is an instructional leader? A second grade teacher can serve as an instructional leader. Principals and assistant principals should also be viewed as instructional leaders. A central office staff member may have the title of Chief Academic Officer or Curriculum Director, but that does not mean they are the only instructional leader in the school district. Once teachers begin communicating with teachers in the same grade level and make connections with the next level (i.e., middle school and high school transition), students will benefit from increased clarity on the essential learning outcomes.
“One of the tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment, so that the learned curriculum is maximized” (Glatthorn, 1987, p. 4).
How do you 'maximize' the learned curriculum? Developing the local curriculum, curriculum alignment, analyzing assessment data, and meeting in job-alike teams are important activities. However, meetings can often become a weekly ritual that do not lead to increased student understanding. An instructional leader is constantly focused on 'maximizing' student understanding. During the No Child Left Behind Era, student achievement was defined in most schools as passing a high stakes test. When instructional leaders define test results as student achievement, most meetings focus on test prep, curriculum reductionism, and closing gaps. Closing gaps is critical and ethical work. Closing gaps should not mean teaching to the middle or ignoring our gifted students who need challenging work. Schools throughout the United States have witnessed artificial gains in student test scores by eliminating science, social studies, art, music, PE, and other non-tested subjects. Glatthorn's question is one that drives the work of instructional leaders. Does test prep or curriculum reductionism 'maximize' student learning?
3 Ways To Grow As An Instructional Leader
1. Join a Twitter Chat
I have been participating in Twitter chats for the past two years. When I describe Twitter chats to other educators, they often look at me like a deer in headlights. Why would someone teach school all day and then join a Twitter chat at 9:00 pm on a Thursday night? How could a one hour chat with educators across the world support teaching and learning in my school? I have met educators in all 50 states. As a principal, I learn from principals, teachers, superintendents, university professors, education consultants, and others who are passionate about teaching and learning. Educators share links to their blogs, school websites, curriculum maps, school goals, presentations, family resources, and more! A Twitter chat is similar to attending a national conference. You will be exposed to multiple perspectives and it will challenge your own views on education. The conversations are lively, but professional. If you ask a question, you may get answers from New York, California, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas. Twitter chats will inspire an instructional leader and will offer multiple opportunities for professional growth.
2. Join and Become Active in a Professional Learning Community
According to Schmoker (2006), "Mere collegiality won't cut it. Even discussions about curricular issues or popular strategies can feel good but go nowhere. The right image to embrace is a group of teachers who meet regularly to share, refine and assess the impact of lessons and strategies continuously to help increasing numbers of students learn at higher levels" (p.178). Schools throughout the United States are operating as a Professional Learning Community (PLC). If your school still allows teachers to operate in isolation, you can learn more about a PLC at http://www.allthingsplc.info.
“Schools committed to higher levels of learning for both students and adults will not be content with the fact that a structure is in place to ensure that educators meet on a regular basis. They will recognize that the question, ‘What will we collaborate about,” is so vital that it cannot be left to the discretion of each team’” (DuFour, 2011, p. 61). Instructional leaders believe in growth. Continuous improvement is possible when each instructional leader is a member of a PLC.
3. Identify Essential Learning Outcomes
It is difficult to maximize student understanding if you do not know the goals. Learning targets help instructional leaders know if students are reaching the goal. Is your goal college and career readiness? An instructional leader must define what the path to college and career readiness looks like for a ninth grade student. Is your goal to increase the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes? Once you define the end in mind, it will be easier to determine the skills and understandings that students need to be prepared for advanced courses. According to Wiggins and McTighe (2007), "The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching. The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn't, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often" (p. 55).
Instructional leadership supports teaching and learning. It is easy to focus on standards, assessment, school safety, school improvement plans, faculty meetings, high-stakes tests, developing your next meeting agenda, technology integration, curriculum alignment, and state mandates. While none of these topics can be neglected, it is easy to lose sight of the goals of an instructional leader. Instructional leadership should not take the backseat to meetings, planning, or activities. Parker (1991) cautioned instructional leaders to avoid motion mascquerading as improvement.
I taught English for 16 years. I love English. I love English teachers. I don't want to upset anyone. I do occasionally challenge current practices and try to get people to rethink old habits. I'll give you a quiz that I hope prompts more questioning.
Question One: Name one non-English teacher adult you know who reads Shakespeare, undisputedly the world’s greatest author, for enjoyment.
Now let’s talk about some imaginary people. We’ll name one Skippy and one Muffin. Skippy never had one class about Shakespeare in school. Never heard of the guy. Muffin had several classes in high school that required reading Shakespeare. She read Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. She was taught about iambic pentameter.
Question Two: After schooling ends, will Skippy be less successful in life professionally and socially than Muffin? A) No; B) Well, in my life Shakespeare has never come up so no; C) Just cuz it never comes up doesn’t mean you aren’t a better person by knowing about him.
Question Three: How often will Skippy’s lack of knowledge about Shakespeare negatively affect his life? A) Never; B) Almost never; C) I teach English so I have to believe that there is a third choice. There has to be!
Add a new detail: Skippy is given instruction during his school years that helps him develop oral communication skills. He becomes confident and impressive as a speaker whether one-to-one, in small groups, in large groups, in person, and digitally (webinars, video conferences, podcasts, and videos). Muffin receives none of that instruction but remembers that Macbeth includes something about witches and Hamlet has something about “Alas poor Yorick”—about all that anyone remembers about those plays two years after high school.
Question Four: After schooling ends, what are the odds that Muffin would trade her Shakespeare knowledge for Skippy’s abilities with oral language? A) 100% chance; B) 99% chance? C) But ya gotta know Shakespeare! Ya just gotta!!
We are not dealing with an either/or proposition here: you don’t have to teach either Shakespeare or oral communication. But in reality, we do make choices and there are things we Don't Have Time to Teach, therefore...
Question Five: If you had to make a choice for your child, which would you choose, developing his/her speaking skills or developing his/her Shakespeare skills?
I mention this because I am attending the NCTE national conference in Boston. For decades now, NCTE has failed to recognize the importance of speaking well and the value of effective verbal communication. This year, I counted 16 sessions about Shakespeare and one about speaking (it was combined with listening and debate). Is teaching about Shakespeare 16 times as important as developing effective speakers? (Sessions about poetry outnumbered speaking 15 to one. As adults, do we write poems 15 times as often as we speak?) If all students were obviously competent communicators; if all students were comfortable in front of the class; if all reader’s theater presentations were powerful and engaging; if all student poetry recitations were terrific; if all book reports were riveting and wonderful; if all biography presentations were enthralling and appealing; if Socratic circles were full of well spoken comments; I could understand the oversight. But that isn’t the case, is it? And in a world full of digital tools that display oral communication skills, becoming well spoken is more critical than ever before. Students will become better speakers only with direct instruction. Teachers will not be able to give that instruction without help. That help is not given at any teacher preparation program or district workshop or organization conference—sadly, even a conference about the English language, a language spoken far more than written. Maybe next year? www.pvlegs.com
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Policy Points Highlights Funding Sources for Educator Professional Development
Despite shrinking education budgets, there are still opportunities to pursue funding for educator professional development. Check out the latest issue of Policy Points (PDF), which provides links to these resources.
Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Leader Voices
Welcome University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter
ASCD is pleased to announce a new ASCD Student Chapter, started by ASCD emerging leader Eric Bernstein. Please join us in welcoming University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter to the ASCD community!
2013 ASCD emerging leader Melany Stowe was recently appointed director of communications and community outreach for Danville Public Schools in Virginia.
OYEA winner Bijal Damani is one of 250 educators chosen for the Microsoft Expert Educators Program. She is also a finalist for the 21st Century Learning Teacher of the Year award, and will be sharing her experiences at their global conference next month in Hong Kong.
Throughout November on www.wholechildeducation.org: Supporting Student Success and the Common Core Standards
The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum. Standards are targets for what students should know and be able to do. Curricula are the instructional plans and strategies that educators use to help their students reach those expectations. Central to a supportive school are teachers, administrators, and other caring adults who take a personal interest in each student and in each student’s success. How are we designing course content, choosing appropriate instructional strategies, developing learning activities, continuously gauging student understanding, adjusting instruction accordingly, and involving parents and families as partners to support our students’ success?
A whole child approach to education is essential to realizing the promise of the standards. Only when students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged will they be able to meet our highest expectations and realize their fullest potential.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on supporting student success as schools implement the Common Core State Standards. Guests include Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal in New York, author, and Education Week blogger; Thomas Hoerr, head of New City School in St. Louis, Mo., author, and ASCD Multiple Intelligences Professional Interest Community facilitator; and Rich McKinney, an assistant principal for a middle school in Knoxville, Tenn., and Common Core coach for the state of Tennessee. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
Something to Talk About
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I will never forget why I teach.
I teach because I care.
I know there is always someone who needs my help, support, guidance, time, and love.
I give my best effort because I want society to reflect my efforts.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I began teaching because I enjoyed working with children and their parents. That will never change.
No one taught me about those who didn't want my help, but I learned. I help them anyway.
Whenever I hear students or their families being negative, I remind them of all the small steps it took them to get where they are. A lot of small steps no one sees equals the big steps people do.
When I teach my students to persevere, take risks, and hard work will pay off sometime, I cannot forget those lessons, either. Because, we know they're true.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am energized and nod my head enthusiastically when I hear the passion exude from my peers.
I feel excited when I hear, read, or see a good idea that I want to modify and use.
I love talking education, with anyone, at any time. My wife thinks I'm nuts.
I did something else for a living. I can't imagine making that mistake again.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I teach, I learn, I lead with all of my fellow educators. Every day. As hard as I can. Because we're all worth it.
It is that time of year again that some of us welcome with delight, while others dread: The Holidays! As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, creating opportunities for students to give back is important. We constantly hear about the popular assistance programs such as "Make a Wish Foundation", "Adopt a Family", and "Toys for Tots", but there are other less familiar programs that require much attention as well. Below is a brief list of "under-used" programs that students may enjoy participating in during the holdiday season:
1. DVD Donation Program
This program allows students to donate DVD's to hospitals and pediatric programs. All the guidelines and rules can be found on the website www.kidflicks.org.
2. School Project Program
This program allows students to review school projects around the United States and determine a particular project that they would like to contribute to. All the guidelines and rules for this assistance program can be found on the website www.donorschoose.org.
3 Click to Give Program
This program permits students to select charities by "clicking" on a specific icon, buiding points based on their selection, and translating the points into money for charity. Additional information regarding available charities and point values can be found on the website www.clickto give.com.
4. Coca-Cola Rewards Program
This is a program that is widely advertised, but hearing about it is different than taking action and getting involved! The rules include purchasing a coca-cola product, obtaining a code (under the lid of the bottle), and exchanging the code for points /donations for a selected charity. Details about eligible products, and registering for the program can be found at www.mycokerewards.com.
5. Book Donation Program
This program requests students to donate new books (sorry, no used books are permitted) to schools, libraries, or literacy organizations. I believe that the donator is responsible for shipping fees, but the awesome thing about this program is that schools can make requests (complete online application) in order to get assistance with building their own literacy materials. For more details about the book donating process visit www.kidsneedtoread.org.
If you are working with students that may need assistance during the holdiay season, the following resources may be helpful:
6. Food pantries are a great resource during the holdiays. Review the comprehensive list (divided by state) of foodbanks or pantries that offer free thanksgiving baskets or christmas items to children/families in need. The list is available on the website www.feedingamerica.org/foodbanks.
7. Sometimes communicating what you need is the best strategy for pursuing help. There are social helping networks that allow you to post your needs. One website that includes a verification process of the requester is the heronetwork.com. Other websites that allows you to post specific needs are www.modestneeds.org and www.aidpages.com.
8. Sometimes knowing where to look for help is the biggest challenge. A list of Christmas charities by state is available on the website www.infobarrel.com.
9. Finally, knowing who to ask, is a game changer when seeking help. There is a website that takes the "re-gifting" idea literally. On the website www.freecycle.org people are permitted to post things (house-hold items, furntiture, supplies, etc.) that they wish to donate. Encourage your students/families to visit the website to find items that they may need, or even post items that are no longer useful to them.
I hope the listed resources are helpful for the students adn families that you work with. What ways do you incorporate the concept of giving in your classroom? I would love to hear about your favorite charities or donation programs for students. Please leave a comment below.
The passage from childhood to adulthood is a road of dependence to autonomy. To gain independence, a transfer of responsibility must take place, from adult to child, and this impacts all areas of life from exploration of the world to learning about it and our place in it. Yet, for many young people, this shift happens all too suddenly instead of in increments. As teachers of tweens and teens, we have a responsibility to aid in this transfer, to intentionally teach agency and provide the opportunities for such ownership. One way educators can help accomplish this is through student-led conferences which help us achieve a new level of independence as well as a few other key conference tasks. They allow us to...
Break it Down: Bringing a child and parent together provides us with a chance to remove a tough barrier that often exists, even in the best of households, so that young people can communicate with their parents about their learning. In turn, parents can listen and offer advice to show support for their child and present a partnership mindset with the teacher.
Illuminate: In a student-led conference, we have the chance to shine a light on a quality which a parent may not have seen or may not have realized others see in their children...in the presence of the child who feels proud and bright in the moment. The thought which goes through a child’s mind when he or she hears a teacher say something positive in front of a parent is invaluable. This begins an open, growth oriented conversation when listening to constructive feedback. The path forward to growth is thereby similarly illuminated for all to journey together.
Build it Up: Having all constituents present at a conference means being able to give constructive feedback in a setting where more people are working together to construct. Think about the manpower we then have to build something significant, like a growth plan, like confidence, like trust!
Preparing for successful student-led conferences is an essential step. Using a tool like this Student Conference Form, students can reflect on their learning and prepare for a discussion with their teachers and parents. From what we have seen at our school, and from what I have personally experienced as a parent, this simple invitation to the conference table can be truly transformative for a middle or high school student during the key transition years of adolescence.
Roland S. Barth shared in his seminal book Learning by Heart (2001), that schools should possess an “ethos hospitable to the promotion of human learning.” As I have endeavored through massive leadership and learning changes, Barth’s words have become a truism for me. Whether navigating a curriculum change, supporting different forms of professional learning, or problem-solving a complex issue (or usually all of the aforementioned at the same time), I ask myself, “How is what we are doing promoting an ethos hospitable to learning?” Inevitably the responses to this question have led the way to culturally transformative levels of learning in our school. Given that instructional cultures grow best organically and synergistically, (and this has been the case for mine), I would simply add that when change is nurtured with innovation, support and feedback, the rate of growth is exponential, and the direction of growth flows in intended and unintended directions.
In our schoolhouse, we believe:
Barth eloquently describes what it takes to achieve this vision. “When we come to believe that our schools should be providing a culture that creates and sustains a community of student and adult learning—that this is the trellis of our profession—then we will organize our schools, classrooms, and learning experiences differently.” (Barth, R., The Culture Builder, Educational Leadership, May 2002.)
Organizing learning differently has been both an exciting and daunting challenge. In the era of sweeping reform, striving to make this vision come to life uniquely within a school requires the science and artistry of students, faculty, staff and parents alike, who must continually partner as an interdependent team. This type of work demands mutual support, collective expertise and shared accountability. (For example: How does being affixed to one curriculum benefit students? Am I ready to share my student’s formative data with my teaching peers?) It also demands adaptive thinking, rather than technical solutions. (For example: How does this master schedule promote flexible forms of learning?) In our school’s journey, confronting shared questions have proven weighty, but worthy. While many might say strong academic achievement has been the most visible and predictable success in our trellis climb, we believe our substantive growth has mainly emanated from our collective drive for seamless collaboration and embedded forms of professional learning. In fact, I would characterize our school as relentless about setting the conditions for academic and social-emotional success. Our sustained urgency on learning, along with our instructional and cultural momentum has fundamentally redesigned the way we teach and learn. What were once individually celebrated features of our school’s educational excellence, are now deliberately interconnected and vital components of our cultural instructional identity. In essence, we teach and learn within a coherent system of meaningful moving parts.
Professional Learning Communities
Our teams practice the data cycle (Reeves, D.) within the professional learning community model (DuFour, R.). In addition to three dedicated common planning times for each team each week, our teachers also collaborate in numerous informal, horizontal and vertical ways throughout each school day. We reflect, design, instruct, assess and monitor as teams. No one teaches or works in isolation. We strive to meet and exceed commonly established goals, and our data is transparent and accessible at all times.
Response to Intervention Methods
Our faculty has studied Response to Intervention (RtI) through the work of Mike Mattos. Our Superintendent’s leadership has also helped us fully commit to giving students what they need, when they need it. We employ universal screening, core district curriculum, and progress monitoring procedures. Customized interventions and supports are architected into personal learning plans, which are designed and delivered by our expert teachers. These academic and social-emotional learning plans are monitored and refined by data teams in instructional cycles throughout the year.
Our district is deeply committed to embedded forms of professional learning. At the elementary level, we employ the workshop model of instruction, chiefly studying the work of Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project. We benefit from three literacy specialists and one mathematics specialist on our staff, who actively coach each of our teachers and teams. Our school employs a literacy and mathematics laboratory model (conducting peer observations with a coach, engaging in lesson voice overs, leading parts of a lesson, and dissecting model lessons), shared classroom walkthroughs, opportunities to look at student work, and the unconference model. Each of these forms of adult learning expands our craft knowledge and grows our shared expertise.
Leadership For All
Our school rests upon our extraordinary teachers and staff, each of whom is a leader in his/her own right. Teachers are trusted to make important decisions about learning. While we have formal teams such as a school leadership team, a child study team and a positive behavior support team, our teachers actively lead the wealth of the instructional design, intervention plans, and assessment work. Teachers also design and lead professional learning opportunities that seed the school with innovation; modeling their own risk-taking and inspiring adaptive thinking among staff.
As Barth has eloquently pointed out in Learning By Heart (2001):
“It has been said that running a school is about putting first things first; leadership is determining what are the first things; and management is about putting them first. I would like to suggest that the ‘first thing’, the most important feature of the job description for each of us as educators, is to discover and provide the considerations under which people’s learning curves go off the chart. Sometimes it’s other people’s learning curves; those of students, teachers, parents, administrators. But at all times it is our own learning curve.” (Barth, R. Learning By Heart, 2001, p. 11).
I would be remiss if I did not comment on my own learning curve amidst this type of learning environment, where change is the norm, and as Barth points out, “learning curves go off the chart.” My experience is that one cannot be immersed in this type of work - day in and day out - without realizing the profound personal and professional effect it has on your own practice. The way I think, the way I listen, the way I reflect, the way I contribute and the way I solve has everything to do with what I have learned from my colleagues. Their work teaches me everyday. Courageously, they have helped me reach upward and outward for a truly ambitious vision, and equally have the support to lean into what can be possible for every learner. Barth reminds me time and time again, that the ethos of learning is within and among us every single day. Even in the face of tremendous change, it is our calling to climb the professional trellis uniquely and continually, in order to benefit every student and adult in the schoolhouse, including ourselves.
Sandra A. Trach, Principal
Estabrook School, Lexington, MA
As we approach the official trick-or treat day, it is only appropriate to think about the concept of fear. The interesting thing about fear is that it is a normal emotion that everyone experiences. My youngest child holds unique hair fears (yes, just regular hair from your head that is left in the comb or brush will literally break him out into tears), my teenage daughter has many fashion fears (she fears that she will not earn enough money to shop on Black Friday and that the color in her shirt does not genuinely match the color in her shoes). To be honest, I have my own fears that I battle on a daily basis. As an adjunct professor, I fear that too many students may drop/withdraw from my class when they see how much I intend to challenge them. In addition, I fear that as a minority and as a female some may struggle to receive or acknowledge my instruction.
As an educator, I could focus just on my fears alone, but this would be wasteful. Remember when you were in gradeschool and learned about how Native Americans used animals in their entirety? They would use the animal skin for cloth, the animal teeth and bones for weapon parts, and of course the animal meat for food. I believe that when we focus only on the fear, we waste the message or the learning inherent within. As an educator it is our job to find the lesson within. I believe that exploring our fears as educators may be very enlightening. Below, is a list of common educator fears. First, ask yourself, "what are you afraid of?". Second, ask yourself "what can I learn about myself from this fear?"
1. Are you afraid to further your education, participate in more professional development or lead professional development activities?
2. Are you afraid to take responsibility for the level, quality, and quantity of material that students learn (or struggle to learn) in your classroom?
3. Are you afraid to manage your classroom emotionally, socially, psychologically, and of course physically?
4. Are you afraid to go beyond the "buzz" words and popular education strategies such as "differentiation", "flipped classroom" and "close reading" to personally review and implement research-based practices within your classroom?
5. Are you afraid of moving beyond the lesson plan?
6. Are you afraid of being relatable to your students, peer teachers, parents, or administrators?
7. Are you afraid of standardized tests or what they may suggest about you and your students' performance?
8. Are you afraid to shift between the role of the teacher and the learner?
It is ok to be fearful. Better yet, it is scary to think about the disadvantages of ignoring or suppressing your fears. I challenge every educator to come clean with your fears. Be a "scaredy cat" in the name of education.
If you are brave enough to step up to the challenge, educators please share and tell me "what are you afraid of?"
If you haven't found your way into blogging yet, try a publishing option your students will love: a free blogging platform that's so simple, even first graders can use it! Our fourth-grade curriculum creator, Katie Davis, recently gave WriteSteps Coaching Director Arlynn King the scoop on Kidblog.
Arlynn: The Common Core standards for writing require elementary teachers to introduce students to digital publishing tools. Continuing with the technology theme in our August e-Newsletter, can you tell us about your favorite free digital tool for publishing student writing?
Katie: Last year, we blogged regularly in first grade, and we'll do it next year in my second grade room. Blogging is definitely not just for older kids. I use the website kidblog.org. It's free and it's wonderful for elementary students!
Arlynn: Can you describe how it works?
Katie: We have a classroom page, and within that, each child has his or her own blog. Students can publish the stories they write and comment on classmates’ posts. We do positive comments only in first grade.
I can also share the password to our blogs with family members so parents and grandparents can see the children's work online. It's very exciting for them, and it gives my students an authentic audience, real feedback from readers, and an engaging writing experience.
Arlynn: Do you blog as a teacher, too?
Katie: Yes, I have my own classroom blog where I will regularly post student work via pictures and podcasts -- students reading their written work. Kids love visiting our class blog in the computer lab and at home to see their work. It's the new version of me hanging their work on the "refrigerator!"
Again, this has been very helpful in engaging students, getting them excited about writing, and motivating them to revise - they do lots of revising and practicing before reading a piece for a podcast. It also gives them a framework to begin learning to think about their audience.
Arlynn: Is there anything else you'd like to share about blogging at school, Katie?
Katie: I also use my classroom blog as my "newsletter" to parents and families. I update it weekly with curriculum we are working on and tools for parents to work with their children, like word lists, book recommendations, and websites. I use the blog to post snack schedules, volunteer schedules, district and school information and events, at-home reading tips, and pictures or videos of what's happening in our classroom community.
It's a great way to facilitate effective, efficient, and frequent communication with the parents and families of my students. They comment on it frequently, and I can respond to their questions quickly.
Arlynn: Are there other technologies you’re using to make digital publishing accessible to K-5 students?
Katie: My district also has iPads, which makes blogging even easier for lower elementary students. I can use QR codes for our website and my students can just scan a projected image of a QR code in order to get to their blog. They no longer have to type the whole web address.
Arlynn: Thank you for sharing, Katie! I know you've already dismantled last year's blog, but we look forward to showing your students' work to our readers in the coming school year!
Katie: Thanks, Arlynn, me too!
Katie Davis is a second grade teacher in Grand Ledge, Michigan. She is a National Writing Project Fellow and worked as Writesteps' Fourth Grade Curriculum Creator.
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #8)
“The Grass Is Not Always Greener”
At this time of year in the great Pacific Northwest there is lots of fog. The days are getting darker and many of us long for the sunshine. It also the time where we start having “family/teacher” conferences. In many cases, families and staff go into these events with a little angst, not knowing what will be a bright spot or what will add to the haze of clarity on how to help our shared students. Perceptions are such a driving force in this dance.
As families we have perceptions about our own experiences of school. Ultimately we just want to know if our children are safe, engaged, supported, challenged and in a healthy environment. Often we are in unchartered waters, either this is our first child experiencing this grade level/school or our children are so different that we experiencing something new at home as well as at school. As staff, we have perceptions about what perceptions families may have about us, our schools and public education as a whole. We have to not only know our students individually well enough to guide them, we need to think about what strategies we can provide families to help their children at home. We want to be clear and honest about each child’s strengths and areas of growth, but don’t want to feel offensive. We want to help our families, but also need to be aware of our limitations of time and resources. For me, I am aware of both sides of the dance and always trying to different strategies to help my needs as a parent as well as honor the staff that are serving my children.
This week a master teacher taught me a few new strategies. She starts by asking families to describe what they are seeing at home when they are working with their child (assessing their perceptions about their student).
Next, she has the family watch a short video that she has filmed of the student doing some grade level work (establishing a shared context for the conversation and showing what the engagement or non-engagement looks like in the class).
Showing her human side, she is honest about her new learning of technology and her limitations (establishing that we are all learning and to take risks).
Then she asks them what they saw and their thoughts (facilitating reflection, this may be the first time the family has seen their child learning at school).
She builds off of their comments and talks about what they are doing in class to either provide additional support and or challenge the child during the day (reassuring their child is safe, engaged, supported and challenged).
Working from the standards and skills, she has a few generic strategies that are related to the standards/skills that can be replicated at home. Often these are skills that reinforce academic stamina, solid work habits, and are simpler versions of what she doing in the class already (reinforcing healthy habits that we all can support).
She reminds the family that this work needs to be low stress and not fight, “start slow and be consistent” (finding safe ways to challenge their child at home). Finally, she asks the families to contact her every few weeks to get an update and share what they are seeing at home (reinforcing the partnership without all the ownership lying on the teacher).
I was reminded that we have world class teachers and world class principals in our schools. Our teachers and principals have never been more challenged and met those challenges at higher levels than ever before. I know there are challenges in our schools across our Nation. I am not blind to the realities that not every child in our country has a world class teacher, every day.
However, there are many schools, cities and states that our global partners may want to come examine. With relentless pressure to provide quick fixes and national propaganda about the lack of the success of our schools, maybe we should look closer at the numbers (http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/infographics/math-achievement-globally.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS1). In our state we are not perfect, but we are becoming world class.
This week in Washington it is Principal Appreciation Week, I am thankful for our world class principals. Their successes are marked in more than a single test score, but rather the 1000’s of lives they save every day. In Tacoma, we have some the world’s best educational leaders. Although there may be foggy days in our area, rest assure there is sunshine behind the clouds for our students, for that I am humbly grateful.
Finally from David Whelan’s “My View of Fog”,
Ask any ten people, 'what's the odor of fog? ' And...
you'll get different replies, from ten different guys,
from brisk, briny sea smell, to smell of wet dog,
to perfume worn by Neptune, essence of clouds
and blue skies
I think that fog is something and nought.
A wraith of perception
suffused with deception
as easily at home…
or in thought
This past weekend, I attended an education conference with some of the preeminent minds in the field. The focus was on educational technology: its importance, how to integrate it relevantly, and how to market it to staff members who might be resistant. Presenters came from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Arkansas. (Sorry, had to). Well known connected educators dotted the audience, among them Tom Whitby, the “Godfather” of Twitter #edu chats. There were a lot of brilliant minds talking about moving education forward in an engaging manner for students. What was I focused on? The charging stations, of course.
The location for the conference was at New Milford High School, in New Jersey. It’s an older building, but the infrastructure for wireless connectivity was unbelievable. There were over 400 registrants at the conference using wireless devices (many more than one), and there was no online lag time. Additionally, Eric Shenninger, the Principal of New Milford High School, mentioned at the end of the keynote address that there were charging stations for wireless devices located all throughout the building.
What a brilliant idea, I thought. Imagine the hidden message to all who enter this building each day: you will use technology daily. We understand that in order for you to be successful in the future, you will need to be intuitive with technology today. Think of the secondary expectation embedded in the charging stations: we trust you. We trust that you will use technology for its intended use. You can charge your device whenever you’re low on batter power, and it will be here when you return.
A common theme among the presenters at the conference was that technology is a tool grounded in the human element. It is a way to bring people together, to form connections, extend knowledge in a different modality, and another way to synergize good teaching with good tools. Technology isn’t meant to replace educators, it is meant to enhance them. As the lead learner, teachers still plan, organize, present, and guide. Technology is there to support the infrastructure educators put in place in their classrooms.
The infrastructure of charging stations and strong wireless broadband connectivity embeds the message of trust we try to build with our students. In order for learning to occur at its optimal level, humans must feel comfortable in their environment. They must feel secure in it, supported by it, and able to grow within it. Making clear to students that they’re in an environment where they’ll be prepared for a technologically driven future, in an environment where the infrastructure can handle it makes it clear that we care about them. The secondary embedded message that your technology is safe in here, you can leave it, and it will be here when you return, speaks to the climate and culture created by the administrative team at New Milford High School.
As people moved from presentation to presentation, I kept looking at all the charging stations. I heard high school students giving directions, connecting with conference attendees, and answering questions. A couple students were presented with a question they were unsure how to answer. “We’ll ask Eric,” they said. They asked him the question, got the answer, and moved on – using his first name when talking to him. This happened repeatedly during the day, conversations between Eric and his students, all on a first name basis.
Another embedded message of trust on display: we will provide you with all the technological opportunities we can to make you successful, but we know that your success still depends on the communication and connections we model and form during our conversations with you. We will do that by respecting each other and calling one another by our first name, as we are one unified community learning and growing together.
What a message.
Rage Sinclaire of POEARTISTRY lends his gifted voice to the reading of an intriguing excerpt from MUGAMORE: Succeeding without Labels - Lessons for Educators by Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson.
I follow a wonderful Facebook page called Humans of New York. It’s a page that photographer Brandon Stanton put together to curate the images of the incredible cross section of humanity that resides in New York City. He talks to these people and photographs them and shares their stories on his Facebook page. You can access his page HERE. As you scroll through his page, you’ll notice that on October 1st, he featured our own Heidi Hayes Jacobs, who shared the following:
"There's three things you can do when life sends a wave at you. You can run from it, but then it's going to catch up and knock you down. You can also fall back on your ego and try to stand your ground, but then it's still going to clobber you. Or you can use it as an opportunity to go deep, and transform yourself to match the circumstances. And that's how you get through the wave."
I’m so impressed with what Brandon does. He is visually cataloguing the people of the melting pot in New York City, but he’s also collecting their stories--sharing a positive side of humanity that is so desperately needed in our world today.
Today’s entry involved this young man:
Brandon had the following conversation with this boy:
"Why are you wearing a pilot's outfit?"
"I wear it every day."
"Do you want to be a pilot when you grow up?"
"No, I want to be a teacher."
"Why aren't you wearing a teacher's outfit?"
"I don't have one."
I thought this was a huge message for today’s teacher. We are still inspiring the next generation. We are still solidly having an effect on the future.
In this day and age of educational nitpickery, I think it’s extremely important to look for the bright spots and use them for both furthering our cause and believing that we are doing what’s best for our children.
I was going to write this week about standards based education and how we swim through the hoopla to get to the root of why we do what we do. This picture and conversation changed my whole mindset this week.
This child values our profession. What better validation do we need?
If you’d like to know more about Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton has just released a book about the portraits and stories he’s collected. You can access the link HERE. You can also follow him on Facebook using the link above or ACCESS HIS WEBSITE.
I thought it was important today to remind teachers how much of a difference they really make. I thought it was important to remind you that you are shaping the future outside of the bureaucracy and national fluff movements. You are needed, you are important, and you are incredible. Every President, every engineer, every scientist, every pilot--needs a teacher. It’s just really cool that this little pilot wants to be a teacher too.
Our value has not diminished. Your value has not diminished.
Pat yourselves on the back, teachers. You are still inspiring the next generation.
Follow Mike on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum, now available from ASCD
Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess Digital Work? coming this Winter from ASCD
Picture and conversation copyright Brandon Stanton and used with permission.
ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative has launched a series of podcasts on a number of issues important to the full development of a child’s potential in school. I was fortunate to be a part of their most recent podcast which focused on early childhood education. The title of the podcast was: ”Early Childhood Education: Balancing Expectations and What Young Learners Really Need.” I was joined in this podcast by several experts in the field of early childhood education:
The focus of our discussion was on the pressure placed on early childhood educators to prepare preK-3 children for the academic expectations of the higher grades, which flies in the face of research in early childhood education that points to play, multi-sensory experiences, collaboration, and active problem-solving as the developmentally appropriate approach that students should be having at this age. I was heartened to hear this panel of experts all share their concerns that young children are being pushed too quickly into academic ”achievement oriented” activities, and that more emphasis needs to be placed on social, emotional, creative, and cognitive learning (through playful activities) which then can provide a solid foundation for later academic learning.
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Shutdown 101 for Educators
The first federal government shutdown in 17 years did not lead to immediate consequences for most schools and districts, but as each day goes by it becomes more problematic for the nation’s educators and students. See the ASCD policy team’s key takeaways and behind-the-scenes details on what the shutdown means for schools by reading our special edition of Capitol Connection and our ASCD Inservice blog post. They cover everything from how health and nutrition services for children and families are being affected to the long-term repercussions of the shutdown. And, for ongoing coverage, read your weekly issues of Capitol Connection!
ASCD to Host 23 Common Core Implementation Institutes November 2013 to February 2014
Starting in November, ASCD is holding institutes across the United States to help guide educators in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The one- and two-day institutes will be held in nine U.S. cities and are focused on Mathematics; English Language Arts and Literacy; Formative Assessment; Leading the Change to CCSS; and Common Core and the Understanding by Design Framework. View the full institute schedule on ascd.org.
New Whole Child Publication
The Korean Educational Development Institute’s KEDI Journal of Educational Policy publishes scholarly articles and reports on research that makes significantcontributions to the understanding and practice of educational policy on an international level. This month's special issue, “Promoting Students’ Social-Emotional and Character Development and Prevent Bullying,” includes an article written by ASCD’s Sean Slade, director of whole child programs, and David Griffith, director of public policy. The article, titled “A Whole Child Approach to Student Success” (pp. 21–35), describes the whole child approach to education and its global education policy recommendations.
Integrating Health and Social Programs Within Education Systems
In August 2013, ASCD and the International School Health Network began work on a new draft statement, titled “Integrating Health and Social Programs Within Education Systems,” at a global school health symposium held in Pattaya, Thailand. The two organizations would like to encourage readers to review and comment on the draft, which was developed to explain how health and social programs can be integrated more effectively within education systems.
Leaders in Action:News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Welcomes the Competency-Based Education Professional Interest Community
ASCD invites you to join our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by ASCD Emerging Leader Jason Ellingson. The Competency-Based Education group is a place to share your ideas and connect with one another.
2012 Emerging Leaders Will Use Pilot Grant Funds to Benefit Students through 2013–14 School Year
This year for the first time, ASCD accepted grant applications from 2012 emerging leaders. The grant program, now in its pilot phase, is designed to give emerging leaders the opportunity explore new and innovative ways to support the success of each learner.
This year’s grant fund recipients are Jessica Bohn, Krista Rundell, Fred Ende, and Amy Murphy. Jessica and Krista are working independently; Fred and Amy are working as a team.
ASCD would like to thank all the emerging leaders who participated in the grant application process as we continue to learn and improve the program over time.
ASCD Leader Voices
Common Core Myths & Facts
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and are preparing to fully implement them—including administering tests based on the standards—in the 2014–15 school year. But rumors and myths about the standards have run rampant, causing confusion among educators, policymakers, and the public. The latest ASCD Policy Points (PDF)clarifies what the CCSS are and are not and tackles these myths head-on.
Read the issue for straightforward facts and explanations that help combat common misperceptions about the federal government’s involvement in the standards, the cost of their implementation, the role of local schools and districts, concerns about student privacy, and more. We hope this Policy Points provides you with useful information about the CCSS that you can share with your local communities to help dispel confusion, counter opposition, and establish yourself as a trusted resource on the standards. If you have any questions, contact the ASCD policy team at email@example.com.
Throughout October at wholechildeducation.org: Early Childhood Education
What does “education” mean for our youngest learners? The first years of school are as important for an educated population as any other period, perhaps more. Research shows that implementation of high-quality preschool programs can be beneficial for the lifelong development of children in low-income families and that an upfront commitment to early education provides returns to society that are many times more valuable than the original investment.
With the current focus on standards and academic achievement, is learning and testing coming too early? Curriculum and assessment should be based on the best knowledge of theory and research about how children develop and learn with attention given to individual children’s needs and interests in a group in relation to program goals. Young children have different social, cognitive, and emotional needs than older children and early childhood is where they begin to build skills and behaviors such as persistence, empathy, collaboration, and problem solving.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on the importance of early childhood education with ASCD’s Walter McKenzie, authors Thomas Armstrong and Wendy Ostroff, the New America Foundation’s Laura Bornfreund, and ASCD Emerging Leader Jennifer Orr. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blogand tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
Something to Talk About
In order for me to lead effectively in my classroom, I needed to make sure I was teaching the right things. Otherwise, what were students learning? And, why were they learning it?
Students need to be personally invested in their learning in order for them to be most successful. What’s taught needs to be relevant to them. The curriculum can be rigorous to the 10th power, but if it isn’t taught in a way that is engaging and fun, students will not produce work that is reflective, vulnerable, risky, and potentially full of mistakes.
Mistakes help us to grow when we acknowledge them and are willing to identify what we did versus what we should do the next time. As I sat down to preplan my year as a fifth grade teacher, I needed to reflect on where I was as a learner: what was I doing well? What could I improve on? What was hard for me? And, what were my goals for the year?
What I’ve mentioned are all things I ask of my students: take risks, invest in yourself, advocate, and be open to new ideas because, good learning is messy before it looks good. As I tell my students, if you have truly waded through the mess to construct new meaning and have learned the material, you can teach it to someone else. This is the highest level of learning, and this is how we create leaders. As a leader in my classroom, I need to embody and model these soft skills I ask of my students. Otherwise, I am a hollow leader. And, I felt hollow as I preplanned my year.
When I meet with each one of my students at six week intervals to discuss how they are doing in meeting their hope and goal for the school year, I ask them to answer the questions I posted above so we can have an authentic, meaningful conversation. We get to know each other and ourselves better, thereby deepening our trust in one another. When a student is struggling, we work through it, so both of us have a deepening understanding of why they feel the way they do. Once identified, we can figure out a potential solution to the problem. The challenge is in the identifying. I needed to do the same thing I asked of my students: reflect, ask questions, and identify the genesis for my hollowness As I thought through each question, the same refrain kept repeating: ‘I do the same things every year, but why do I do them?’ I needed to become relevant again, things needed to make sense, and I needed to have fun in order to meet the needs of my learners, and myself.
During the school year, peers will stop in my room for something and comment on student behavior, or on our practice. We hear a lot of “you’re very nice to each other,” “there’s a good vibe in here,” and “you all seem to be really having fun.” All these things are true in the moment. But, have I grown during this time, too? Or, am I just regurgitating the same lesson plans each year? Yes, we do Morning Meeting, Energizers, and Closing Circle. We incorporate cooperative learning and team-building skills into all learning experiences. But, I realized that I was leaning too much on prior lesson plans and prior knowledge. As a teacher, I know that prior knowledge should springboard to deeper understanding, not serve as a final resting spot for learning. When that happens, I am not growing. If I am not maxing out my potential each day, I am definitely not doing that for my students. I needed to model the expectations I had for my students. Otherwise, I was doing them, and myself, a disservice. And, education should never be that.
I went back to the theorists and books on my shelf. I pulled out Jensen’s Brain Based Learning, Denton and Kriete’s First Six Weeks of School, and Kriete’s Morning Meeting Book. I reread pieces of each, took notes, reworked ideas in my head, wrote lesson plans from scratch, and fought with my computer. Half-written pieces on pieces of paper, manila file folders, and books surrounded me. As my wife reminded me of the mess I was making it all made sense: I needed to set the purpose for my learning, teaching, and leading through a hope and goal I shared with others. And, I could do that at Back to School Night. How more accountable could I be then? Every parent of every child I was teaching this year would be there. They would hold me accountable for my hope and goal. I needed to think through my message to them. What did I want to say? What was most important? What did they need to know? How could I weave that into a hope and goal that they could see directly impacted my teaching and would positively influence their child on a day to day basis.
I decided my hope and goal would focus on three key ideals: learn, teach, and lead. I needed to learn each student’s needs, connect it back to what the research shared as best practice, weave these best practices into my teaching, and create a group of young future leaders. I would be modeling the highest level of understanding through my leadership. With my hope and goal cemented, and my lesson plans formulated, I began to learn, teach, and lead again. With passion. When I lost my PowerPoint slideshow the day of Back to School Night, I dug up an old one for window dressing. I spoke without the notes I prepared. I focused on the key aspects of our classroom organization: social – emotional growth, learning risk – taking in our learning, questioning to stimulate deeper understanding, and enjoyment of the learning process. With that would come the academic stamina and perseverance parents could point to as growth occurring.
The rest is yet to be written. Back to School Night went well. I shared the connection between the social curriculum and its impact on the academic curriculum. My passion and vulnerability was visible in my hope and goal for our fifth grade students. And, I learned something. Now, I’ll go teach and lead.
I realized this weekend that I might be a bit of a hypocrite . . .
My second child, Elle (age 7), loves to ask questions. Lots of them. Random questions. Pointed questions. Questions with easy answers and questions with no good answers. But, A. Lot. Of. Questions.
And, sometimes, I am annoyed by the questions, the sheer number of them. Sometimes, I ask Elle to stop or wait, or (rarely) go ask her mother.
And this weekend, I realized that every time she asked a question, she was trying to make sense of her life, her world, and her experiences. She was trying to learn more, and I was denying her that experience because I was tired or busy or embarrassed to not know the answer. But, I was clearly stifling what comes natural to her - asking a lot of questions.
I believe strongly that school should be filled with STUDENTS asking questions are a far greater percentage. Th students should ask more questions than the teachers. And both the students and the teachers should sometimes struggle to get the answers to those questions. Not all answers are quick or easy in life, and we have an opportunity (and in my opinion, a responsibility) to show that life does not always have the "right answer".
Those of you who know me, know that a child of mine who asks me a lot of questions is exactly the child I deserve. Yes, she is. I deserve to be asked to match my professional support for inquiry with my parental responsibilities. Anything less is hypocritical . . . And I am sure Elle will ask me what that means and why I am one.