Focus is Key

I have resolved to work on blogging once a week, because I need it, and hopefully it will help me to re-prioritize in a meaningful way. If it helps someone else, all the better.

This week felt very chaotic. I’m finding that having Mondays as our meeting days can make a week feel that way, because there is stuff coming in that you feel needs to be addressed, and yet, paying attention in meetings is important. It’s also a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page at the start of the week. I think I’ll be able to reconcile that as I get used to it, I just wanted to throw that out there.

Tuesday morning I spent 4 hours in a training for a new fluency program that our district has adopted. It was a “train the trainer” type of training, so the majority of people in it were site principals and site coaches. Since this is our second week of school, we are working with a new math adoption, and materials organization is a huge issue right now, you can probably guess what was happening for me this entire time. I was getting emails and notes passed to me about all the other things occurring.

I’m so glad that I was a mother before I did this job, because I am able to “key in” and listen to more than one thing at a time. I heard a couple of very important things in this training that caught my attention and made me sit up and focus. One, is that this program is set to push kids grades 2-8 to learn their basic operations at a rate of 0.8 seconds. As an elementary math specialist, this concerned me. One other teacher in the room caught this also and expressed concern. I was glad to hear this, because I thought maybe I was being the “helicopter parent” for a moment. My background is mainly high school, but I’ve raised enough kids and grandkids to know that this seems like a great opportunity to create the kind of math anxiety that Jo Boaler discusses.

The next day I ran across The Recovering Traditionalist, and her blog confirmed my thinking. I have made an appointment to talk to the Director of Interventions in our district to discuss my concerns. I understand that fluency with operations is important, and I think that this could be a great way to encourage kids to become fluent, I’m concerned about pushing the speed so hard in grades 2-5. I’d love any feedback from others out there to help me with this. I want to do what’s best for our kids.

I also spent 6 hours this week moving, organizing, cataloging and inventorying boxes of elementary math books. I actually had to do it twice, due to an unfortunate incident involving the moving of all the boxes I had originally organized. I decided after doing this that I needed to take a little more control of my time and resources, and I have scheduled several site visits for next week to help me get focused on my main objectives for the year; supporting sites, teachers and kids in good mathematics learning.

Making Connections at Sites

Our first week started at top speed. Teachers are excited about the new materials for math, we just need to get them in all teachers hands. My first assignment, move materials around until all teachers have what they need and the extras are where they need to be. It’s big.

There is a positive side to this. I’m connecting with the coaches at all sites and making appearances and connections that might not have been made for another couple of weeks. I’m being given the opportunity to problem solve and interact in helpful ways that are allowing sites to see that I am available, visible, and willing. I sat down with the elementary teacher at our Independent Studies program, and was able to hear her concerns, needs and being overwhelmed with over 100 boxes of materials, which I am going to be able to get out of her way and on to other sites where they are desperately needed. She has two 4th grade students at the moment and materials for over 100 K-5 students! Yowsa!

The week passed by so quickly that I could barely keep up. I did manage to get quite a few things accomplished other than the materials issue. I’m creating a schedule for my sites (19 for those of you who haven’t caught that, plus Independent Studies) to make sure that I get out to them twice a month. I can see that is going to be huge this year with the change in our math program and expectations. I will be meeting with K-2 and 3-5 leads from each site an additional once a month to create a PLC and work collaboratively to lesson plan, model lessons, problem solve and work creatively to build a strong and consistent math program for all our student across the district, almost 8000 elementary students! I’m very excited about this.

I know this year is going to be busy, but I am very hopeful about the foundations we can begin building to help our program become strong, equitable, and an important start for our students in their continued success throughout their K-12 careers. I found myself exhausted when I was finally able to stop on Friday, but content that some progress had been made. We have a great team of leaders, and I’m looking forward to working with them consistently.

I usually like to be more organized in my methods, have a plan ready before I start, even if the plan needs to change. I’ve had to improvise quite a bit this week, but am glad to report that I can still dance pretty quickly and change directions when needed without too much prior notice. Not too bad for a grandma of six! I am flexible and can think pretty quickly, which is going to come in very handy this year.

A New Year and New Start

I had hoped to do some reflecting and writing over the summer, however, my last school year ended at a crazy pace. In fact, It didn’t really end at all until I stepped onto a cruise ship headed for Alaska.

I’m grateful for that cruise. Not only was it a wonderful way to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday with my family, but it made me unplug. It’s difficult to get email and texts in the middle of the ocean on a teacher’s salary. The time I spent with my family was peaceful and relaxing. It also allowed me to give my brain the rest it needed to be able to reset for the new school year.

A quick recap: 1) I was in a new position as K-5 math specialist after teaching HS math for 11 years, 2) our district was in an adoption cycle year, and I worked with a committee of teachers to evaluate materials and instead of piloting this year, we made a decision to adopt materials and have them for the start of this year, 3) I had to schedule ~330 teachers for training on the new curriculum during the summer and get trainers situated to do this training, 4) the training occurred during a week in which I was out of state, so it had to be organized before I left, and 5) I was asked to write a PD plan for my teachers this year, create a budget for it, and have it scheduled on the school year calendar before leaving for the summer. BTW, I have never created a budget this large before.

Needless to say, for the month of June I was working, but my brain was so fatigued from the last 3-4 months that I just couldn’t summon up the energy to blog. Today was our first official day back to school, our students return Wednesday, and we had two meetings to start the day. There are many new routines for our district that have been put into place by our directors of the Teaching and Learning section, under which my job falls, so I found myself spinning just a little again today trying to figure out the organization and how to proceed.

I am looking forward to this year. I believe the new organization will be helpful, there is much more direction for us, and clearer boundaries in place. I will be meeting with teachers from all sites twice a month to conduct district level PLCs to help teachers with the new materials, new thinking involved in teaching with a focus on the SMP, and supporting and encouraging those who are feeling overwhelmed by the whole deal. I will be out at the school sites much more this year than I was last year, which I am very excited about, and we have had some changes in personnel at sites which is allowing me a little more leeway in getting invited in for PD and classroom support. I will be busy, but it will be a good busy.

I attended an Institute for the Standards of Mathematical Practice at the EDC in Boston earlier this month, and I am very excited about the materials we were given and the training. I met some new educators and can’t wait to incorporate some of the information I received into my PLC work with teachers. I think this will be the start of some good stretching and growing for our teachers and our kids.