Professional Learning Challenge

I am creating a Professional Learning plan for our K-5 schools in the district for next year. We are experiencing the frustration of not enough subs (I’m sure that’s happening everywhere) so day long workshops are a problem to schedule, especially when the high schools and middle schools are trying to do the same thing. We have 19 elementary schools in our district, and I’m working on trying to build a PL plan which will reach all sites, all grade levels with minimal time and that doesn’t require me to be at all sites for this. That’s the first challenge. The second is, my plan is to schedule something once a month to create learning that will be consistent, viable and valuable to the teachers.

There are so many things that I am thinking about that are important; support and improve student learning, give teachers something they can use in classrooms and model good teaching. I also want to support good unit planning and classroom activities which allow low entry for all students to engage, yet have extension activities for students who are ready to move more deeply into learning. In addition, I want to create a program which strengthens the learning of our teachers, especially the ones who don’t feel confident in their own math skills.

We may also be piloting new math materials next year, which brings an added challenge to all of this. Teachers could be changing math materials in their classes, working on creating stronger unit plans, incorporating new and stronger activities into their classroom routines and learning more about mathematics and how to teach it? This seems ambitious at best. How do I prioritize the learning for everyone, and improve classroom outcomes for all our students with out overwhelming the teachers? Oh yes, the ELA specialists are also working on the same type of plan. Obviously a priority list is in order.

At the middle and high schools this plan seems to be unfolding well, the fact that teachers at these levels teach one subject area most of the time helps a lot. At the elementary level there is a very important consideration. All teachers facilitate all subjects in their classrooms all the time.

I feel the best way to do this is to model a PLN, and am working on how to make this happen. It will require administrator participation and willing teachers from sites, to take information back to sites and engage teachers at sites in collaborative, working conversations. A very important piece of this will be to model those strong collaborative conversations at a district PLN level, including discussing student work and utilizing these discussions to improve instruction. I’m writing this to help me think it through, as well as gathering suggestions from others who may have gone through something similar and found ways to make it work. I’ve found that when I discuss things with myself and others, things begin to become clear, and ideas form. Once again, I am hoping for this wonderful process to bring something new and important to life.

Good Teaching

Whew! It has been a busy couple of weeks. I have been asked to facilitate several different PD sessions, at sites and with our site coaches. I’ve enjoyed it, and really love to teach and build capacity, it’s always difficult when it happens all at once. For starters, our school board was recently presented with our latest benchmark results in math and the results of the Scholastic Mathematics Inventory (SMI) from our students in grades 5-8. These were not good, and the board has become quite interested in K-12 mathematics. This is good news for me, although, it creates a steady stream of needs. I am quite in demand at sites and in coaching meetings.

First, at one of our Title 1 sites I walked teachers through a coherence activity for the CCSSM in comparing and ordering. I took this set of vertically aligned standards and cut them up, asking teachers to put the correct standard in the correct grade column. Although many of them felt that this should end at grade 2, they soon realized that so much of the work done in K-2 prepares students for success in fractions and other topics in grades 3-5. It was a great exercise, and the teachers were having some wonderful discussions about how to plan lessons, monitor student understanding, and best of all, that they needed to know more than just their grade level standards.

In our coaches meetings I have been working with the MS and HS specialists to create some workshops around performance tasks and the SMP. We started as a whole group for one meeting, asking the coaches to come up with the SMP and then to discuss how they should be informing instruction and embedded into teaching. From there we broke up into grade level groups and worked on some performance tasks, discussed classroom activities and routines that would lead to success on these tasks and increased comprehensive understanding in mathematics. Today we looked at student work, discussed how the student responses helped us to understand what students knew and understood about the mathematics, and implications for classroom instruction. There were some great discussions, and coaches had some “AH HA” moments in looking at the student work. I sent them back to the student work several times, and they realized that one look wasn’t enough, more became clear as they looked and discussed the work in detail. They also talked about how important it is to look at student work together, to calibrate grading and inform instruction, as well as for review and re-teaching. We also talked about lesson and unit planning and how this information could help to plan more strategically, and help teachers to understand where the low entry point may be for many units and topics.

Finally, I am being asked to come out to sites to lead grade level groups in assessment analysis and strategic planning based on assessment results. This is very exciting, and while I love working with these teacher groups and enjoy teaching them how to do these things and collaborating with them, we have 19 elementary sites and I just can’t do it all. I’m really needing to build a strategic plan for increasing the capacity of the on-site coaches to do these things, and to increase their knowledge.

La Cucina Matematica, Twitter, and the MTBoS

Saturday I spent in Alameda at the COE with Matt Vaudrey, John Stevens, and several other educators. We were learning about teaching math in an engaging and focused manner. I have actually been to their workshop before, and was asked by a colleague if I would attend again. I was happy to, I find Matt and John very entertaining and love learning from and with them. Their workshop is called La Cucina Matematica and their website is extremely helpful. Their workshop includes work from Fawn Nguyen, Sadie Estrella, Andrew Stadel, and others that I find inspiring from the MTBoS. When I first began using twitter approximately 1 1/2 years ago, I was fortunate to stumble upon this group, and I haven’t looked back since.

We spent the day engaged in several different activities, counting circles, estimation 180, the mullet ratio, visual patterns, and discussions of the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which are the foundation of all of the activities. We talked about how important and exciting it is to see kids who have not been very successful in mathematics come alive and begin to justify and stand firm on their mathematical beliefs. Kids believing in themselves and their ability to learn and use mathematical ideas. I love being reminded how important this work is, and that others are as passionate and involved in the learning of students and their success as I am. I often felt very alone in this at my previous site.

I want to thank the “Regional System of District and School Support” for supporting and hosting this and other strong and wonderful programs like this for teachers and teacher leaders around the North Bay area. While I have been fortunate to have been a part of the MTBoS and to learn from and with these wonderful educators, there are so many who are not connected to twitter and are missing a large part of this PLN. The group of educators to which I refer are dedicated, supportive, active, reflective and collaborative. We work together constantly to improve, strengthen and create strong teaching and learning. Sometimes we just have a lot of fun discussing nerdy and goofy things. One thing John said that really resonated with me, when he was working on a presentation for a classroom that he hadn’t taught for a bit, he put his lesson plan out there and asked for opinions and help. Within minutes he was receiving help and suggestions from many different sources. This just doesn’t happen consistently on sites.

My practice has improved immensely in the past year and a half, and as I work with teachers I am constantly thinking about, “How would the MTBoS think about or dig into that”, and “How can I use my PLN to strengthen my work with teachers?” I am sharing the things I learn from these marvelous people, and hope that I can offer something to this wonderful PLN of which I am a member.

Thanks once again for the learning, reflection, and reminder to always strive for more.