Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reflective & Effective

A good friend and mentor of mine had a phrase he used last year I loved...he called it M&M's (meaningful, manageable, and sustainable) It has stayed with me, and I often reflect upon it as I am planning this year.  I too was searching for a sticking phrase as I am working with others this year.  As I was reflecting I started thinking about how can I help others help themselves to move forward? Then it hit me...reflective & effective.

I have noticed that the best growth is that which grows from within an organization.  How does that growth develops through self-reflection. Those who are reflective usually tend to be effective.

One of my goals this year, as an instructional coach, is to get others to be reflective. I believe it is a great place to begin, and is SO powerful.

Some of the ways I have encouraged others to be reflective are:
  • examine your data and have a dialogue
  • keep a journal or blog about your experiences and learning -grow your PLN (twitter, Facebook, etc...) and share your experience
  • video tape yourself teaching/coaching and reflect independently or with a colleague
  • survey or interview students, parents, or colleagues who have a connection with you.

This is not an end all be all list, but is more of a reflective starting point to begin your journey towards effectiveness.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Unpacking" to plan forward

As I look around our school, a few days into the year, I observe thoughtful planning in regards to establishing routines and expectations for a positive, productive school year. I realize how much time, effort, and consideration has been spent by teachers to set students up for success. This same "strategic care" will be put into units for all of our students to grow socially, emotionally, and academically the rest of the year.

As a district, we are fully immersed in learning Assessment for Learning strategies and conceptual-based unit design.  We are beginning to re-visit differentiation with a new lens based on our new learning.  This morning I came across a familiar resource I hadn't looked at for awhile, and there on page 60 a portion jumped out at me.  The resource is Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn R. Jackson.  The portion was in regards to differentiation when unpacking your learning goals. Her passage reads:
The second important reason for determining whether a goal is a content or process goal is that making this determination can help you find ways to differentiate your instruction so that more of your students can access the curriculum and achieve the learning goal.  If the goal is asking students to master content, then you have quite a bit of flexibility  on how students learn the content. If the goal is asking students to master a process, you have flexibility in the content you can use.

I am not sure if it was the simplistic manner in which it was written that sparked the aha, or the organized thinking in regards to separating or "unpacking" learning goals into two categories (content or process).  Either way it was a passage that really helped me to reflect while unpacking learning goals and standards, so that moving forward ALL my students will have access to the curriculum.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Where to Begin?

As I begin my role as strategist a "shift" has taken place.  I am choosing not to use the word change, as to me it has developed a negative reputation.  My role has become that of an instructional coach, or as Jim Knight referred to it as an instructional collaborator.

Upon learning of my role shift in June, I began to form questions, collect resources, and reach out to as many people as I could. I have even made the time to join in a fantastic Twitter chat #educoach on Wednesday nights at 9pm central time (shameless plug) Throughout this fantastic process I have discovered a few things about being an instructional coach and am working hard to create a reputation for the position and debunk some myths along the way.

Some of the things that I have found valuable so far in my new journey have been:
  • It takes a supportive principal with a clear, aligned vision to make this possible
  • Building trusting relationships is vital and takes time
  • Communication is needed to form, maintain, and sustain relationships
  • Confidentiality is critical for this to be effective
  • Feedback is crucial during the process
  • Deep reflection can happen if you take the time and allow it to.
  • One size doesn't fit all
  • Building upon strengths is a great way to begin
  • Anticipating is important to any interaction, especially if there is a belief that there may be resistance.
  • Listen, listen, listen!
  • Having a clear goal for the interaction or collaboration is key to remaining focused
  • I am not a "fixer" I am a partner
I realize this is not the end of the list, it is only the beginning in a journey that I believe I have been waiting a long time to take.  I couldn't be more excited or more proud of where I am starting.  The time is right.  We have a hungry staff, ready to jump on board.  They see this as an opportunity to deepen their capacity in an area they choose, as long as it is student achievement and learning focused.  I believe they see this as an opportunity to explore and receive professional learning differentiated for them, that their current structure is not able to provide.  I am thrilled to be part of that process!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Innovation Day

Thanks to the inspiration from @stumpteacher (Josh Stumpenhorst) and @4thgrdteach (Pernille Ripp) I decided to give the idea of Innovation Day a try.  Instead of going it alone, I enlisted my phenomenal colleagues to see if they were interested in partaking on this risky end of the year adventure with me.

We modified the planning sheets from others that had gone before us and began having individual conferences with students to help them plan the process and materials needed.  We stressed to the students that we were not going to do any of the thinking or the planning for them.  What we did stress were three things:  They needed to learn something, produce something, and present their product and process.
As I, and my colleagues had that natural fear of loss of control creep in on us leading up to the day, we decided to keep faith and trust the process of those that experienced this before us.  I am so glad we did display that trust because today was unbelievable!

I had many takeaways from the day but two really seem to have stuck with me.  One thing I noticed right away was the passion these students have to learn and create.  Not one student had an issue with coming up with an idea.  Two of probably 200 students showed up today without any supplies, however 5 minutes into the day had another idea ready to go.  Students got started right away and I was a buzz taking pictures, asking questions, and enjoying their hard work.

My second takeaway was the hardest.  I had the hardest time staying in my room today.  Don’t get me wrong I loved the work of my students, however I was so curious what other classrooms looked like.  I checked them out a few times as other teachers came to visit our room, which allowed me to duck out and take pictures.  What I noticed was the same passion, no matter what room I was in.

A final thought I had about the day was..I think if we do this next year, we need to find a way for our kids to tour other classrooms to view what other students created.  I think gallery walks will be in order for next year.

Thanks again for being the inspiration to our innovation Josh and Pernille! You Rock!  Clearly displayed by the model guitar below!

Here are some of the many things that came to life today:
Wrigley Field Model
D-Day Model Omaha Beach
Scene from Star Wars Clone Wars Movie with Legos
Model of the Titanic
Still life drawing of the Titanic
Model of Lincoln Park Zoo
Purse and Wallet made from Duct Tape
Magnetic Ice Arena
Model of Lion’s mouth
Animal Museum
Invention using electricity and simple circuit
Model of a game
Model of our playground
How to catch a fish seminar with live Bluegill
Model of a jungle
Model of a guitar
Wooden Birdhouse
Robotic basketball car
Invention Velcro novels
Invention: a shirt that turns into a pillow
Model of the Twin Towers
Gum (students made from scratch)
Model of a black widow spider
Eifel tower still life and paintings
A chain reaction with objects (think Mousetrap game)
Model of a city
A fancy cake made of clay
Model of USS Kittyhawk
Solar power fan
Research papers and posters
Video documentary of Innovation Day
“Modding” video games
Model rockets
Board games
Model of a castle
Boats that can really float
A model of an alligator
Model of a B-12 Bomber
Model of a tank
Model of American Airlines Arena
Model of a soccer field
Model of a Native American Dwelling

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An apple a day will keep SINA away?

*As a disclaimer-I want to note that in our classroom we are working on the power of persuasion and opinion.  We have been focusing on how to capture an audience with text features. (You may be here right now because of the title :) if so..I guess it worked ) We then had a discussion on once we get our audience, how do we hold on to them with our words. This is the story of how I am trying to convince my wife that I don’t want, but I need an iPad2. :)

It is amazing how engaged students can be in the writing process when they know their audience and have a clear purpose. I have made an effort to bring both to every piece of writing we have done this year.  Not only has this been outstanding in planning and meeting the needs of all students, but it has certainly helped to frame our learning from the beginning of each unit.
I make an effort to post clear learning targets in all subject areas, and have tried to add relevance underneath each.  Students help me create bodily kinesthetic movements to represent the targets, which seem silly, but they have been very effective. The relevance has not been too challenging, but I am finding that students can tell me what we are learning, and have a difficult time telling me why we are learning this.

Our Persuasion Process
Our unit has been focused on these three essential questions:
1.       What are effective ways to change your audience’s perspective?
2.       What features of your message help draw a reader to your message?
3.       How do you grow and receive feedback from your audience?

The process of persuasion we have focused on has been:
1.       Take a stance
2.       Know and read your opponent
3.       Find support
4.       Develop your argument or opinion
5.       Present your message in an engaging way.


Here is what my students have helped me create:
Opinion: I don’t want, I need an iPad2
Audience: My intelligent, beautiful, fun-loving wife. (Thick enough..I think.)

If a school does not meet the annual AYP state participation goals or state Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) in reading or mathematics assessment in either the “all students” group or any one of the subgroups for two consecutive years, it is designated as a school in need of assistance, which is also referred to as SINA .
My students thought this was too harsh of a hook because it didn’t speak to my wife, so they helped me create this introduction paragraph:
Although we have many wants in life, I need an iPad2. If I am fortunate enough to save enough money to buy an iPad2, it would help our family and improve my job. I realize how expensive they can be, however I feel with your approval and my dedication to saving money, we can make this happen! (They liked the team and taking responsibility approach)

I will not bore you with the rest of our draft, but what I did want to share about this process was the power of collaboration and technology.  I couldn’t believe the responsive feedback I got from all my students.  They were so charged about this assignment, they had me share it with them in Google Docs. They gave me endless feedback and possible revisions in hope that I would get an iPad2.  They have suggested pictures to use and various ways to present this to my wife.  I shouldn’t be, but was completely amazed by the level of deep thinking and planning they were doing over a written assignment.

            When we are all finished self-assessing and peer assessing in our Google Docs we are going to upload them to our so we can attempt to gain feedback.  Students are hopeful to receive feedback since most of them hope to approach their audience soon to see if they can persuade them to take action.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One small step for Skype, one giant leap to tech intergration.

A few weeks ago was World Read Aloud Day.  It was one of those times where I wish I had been paying closer attention to my Twitter feed. A fantastic local author Angela Maiers, @AngelaMaiers brought to my attention that this was taking place.  She and others suggested Skyping with other classes from around the world.  Unfortunately, I caught the memo too late to partner up with a class from another area, so I did the next best thing.  I partnered with an outstanding Kindergarten teacher in our building, who has a phenominal passion for learning and teaching.  We decided to make it a special day!

Students from our classroom read aloud their favorite books to students from the Kindergarten room, and students from her room reciprocated the favor.  We shared stories via Skype.  It was amazing to watch how engaged and supportive my students were of Kindergarteners' reading with fantastic fluency.  I would hear comments like, "That student read with wonderful expression!"  and "I can't believe how smooth that kids' fluency is!"  We Skyped three times that day.

At the end of the day we visited our buddies down the hall and got together to read aloud in person.  The Kindergarteners gave us a snack and we read books from their read-to-self tubs.  It was a great day filled with great learning.  Since then we have decided to continue the tradition of reading aloud to each other.  This Friday will be our second time our classrooms will share stories.

The Spark has become a Fire!!!

Day 2 of dream school.  Yesterday students discovered the perimeter and area of our school in meters.  We used existing maps to talk about future possibilities.  Today we pretended that the school was to be torn down, but we had to build a new school, with identical perimeter on the current site.  What students designed for the inside of their school was up to them.

Students had the task of taking yesterday's measurements and re-drawing the perimeter of the school to scale.  Scale can be very confusing, however since we had purpose, student's were fully engaged.  My brief assessment showed that all students were capable of drawing large objects to scale.  But that wasn't the fire, that was the spark.

The fire turned out to be the conversations about what to put inside.  So many great, and many unrealistic ideas were said, but who am I to judge?  We decided that this conversation would be ongoing and needed to be recorded.  Yesterday we opened up Edmodo accounts.  So, we created a new small group dedicated to sharing ideas about our new school designs.  This afternoon those ideas will start showing up so that our conversations will continue.

I am uploading one student's current draft.  They are in the process of finalizing their plan.  They have chosen to create and share using Google Docs.

I LOVE MY JOB!  I love how flammable these kids have been.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Finding that spark coming back from break!!!

As the children walked in this morning, you could tell they were excited, yet exhausted!  As a teacher, and a human, it is important to remember to be responsive to your students, but don't lower your expectations. we decided to incorporate our learning of perimeter, area, and scale into bringing a dream to life.  We discovered the perimeter and area of our existing building, and students a designing what they wish their dream school to look like.  We created some parameters, with the largest being they had to create this new school the same as, or smaller than their current school.

You could feel the current in the classroom build up, the way the hair on your arms rises when you have goosebumps!  I am so excited to see where this goes.  It is amazing what can happen when you respond and challenge your students.