Never Stop Learning

I’ve just completed the hardest 3 months ever in my career. I am learning to support elementary teachers in teaching and learning mathematics, and working hard to help decrease anxiety and stress. Elementary teachers work so hard. They teach all subjects, often with limited time for planning and collaborating. Throw in a new math curriculum which has increased the conceptual depth of the mathematics they are teaching, and you have chaos.

Many of these teachers have embraced the new curriculum, and are working together to create a cohesive learning experience for their students, recognizing that they can’t do it all, and accepting that this year they will be learning along with the students, slowly but surely. I’m not concerned about these teachers. They ask for help and guidance, they accept what they can do, and work in new things as they are able. They discuss their experiences in the classroom, both the successes and the things they hope to improve.

Others are struggling and anxious. They are upset and angry, complaining about the time it takes to plan and learn the new material, often refusing to try some of the new lessons or reverting back to direct teaching to “get it all in”. They fight the idea of leaving some things out for now to learn how to facilitate conversations and become familiar with the program and new teaching methods because “kids won’t be ready for CAASPP.” I’m more concerned about these teachers. I want to support them and decrease their anxiety because I know that is the foundation of their anger and struggling. I check in with them, remind them to be gentle with themselves, encourage them to pick a couple of things to work on and get good at them, then add in new things as they feel comfortable. I model lessons in their classrooms, and discuss lessons with them and how to improve what they are doing. At times, they hear me and feel better, and their anxiety lessons a bit.

A handful of teachers are refusing to incorporate the new program at all. They refuse to put in any time outside of their classroom to familiarize themselves with the material, think about how to facilitate lessons differently or learn how to visualize math in a different way. I’m extremely concerned about these teachers. They often refuse to allow me to enter their classrooms, will not attend any collaborative or supportive learning situations we put in place, and often respond to surveys with sarcastic and volatile messages. These are the teachers I want to support and work with. These are the teachers that I find myself thinking about, worrying about, and the ones that are the incentive for planning my professional learning opportunities, even though they refuse to attend or to even enter into conversations about learning or growing. I guess my hope is that they will get it by osmosis.

My colleagues remind me to go with the goers, and honestly, it really is the only thing I can do at this point. There are just too many teachers and one of me. I do continually hope that the things we are doing and the learning that is occurring will seep into them little by little and that their mindsets will change and grow.

Mostly, I worry about the students. There are so many good things happening in the classrooms across the district, even the ones who are anxious and feeling overwhelmed. I know they see it too, they often talk to me about the things they hear their students saying or what they see them doing and love the learning they are seeing. The students in the rooms of the last group of teachers continue to struggle with ideas, topics, and learning.

I’m grateful for the changes we are making and the fact the the majority of our students are growing and changing because of it, but I want EVERY student to have the opportunity to grow and learn. I want it all.

I have a lot more to do.

Intentional and Practical Professional Learning – Part 2

Our district Teaching and Learning team is taking part in Cognitive Coaching training. This is a series of eight professional days, two at a time spread over a series of months. Today was our 3rd day of this training. I’m finding these very informative and practical for my practice and my personal learning. Today we were discussing questioning. After writing a previous post here, I realized I left quite a bit unsaid and unaddressed. While I definitely need to be monitoring my mindset both in planning and facilitating professional learning, there is so much more that needs to be considered.

Questions are hugely important on so many levels. Our facilitator left us today with this thought:

 “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers.

You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize Winner)

Now I would definitely like to be counted among the wise, in which case, I need to be asking the right questions. Not only of others, but of myself. So, while I work on planning professional learning for teachers, it is important that I ask the “What” and “How” questions. These are questions that allow me to assume positive presuppositions, and “are designed to stimulate thinking, not action”. (Cognitive Coaching Seminars) Stimulating thinking is what provokes us to action, and allows us to reflect on what we do or do not know, and to push our thinking to the point we can begin to find solutions and ideas which become actions. Often these are the types of questions we would be using in working with colleagues and other practitioners, however, I find that I sometimes need to be inviting when delving into my own thinking. I need to be intentional and honest with my personal and professional reflections in order to push myself to deeper levels of learning.

This is where I become a better developer and facilitator of professional learning. By asking the right questions, reflecting on the “how” and “why” of what I am attempting to share, and pushing my thinking beyond the normal stages of planning, I can develop habits of mind and practices which will allow me to plan, execute and model a more cognitive level of professional practice. This is what I meant to be saying in the previous post when I commented that I needed to continue learning. I have to push myself beyond my comfort level, especially if I am going to ask colleagues to push past their comfort levels.

I am blessed to have many colleagues, both in my district cohort and on twitter, with whom I can think through projects on which I am working, question my thinking, and verbalize my frustration when things don’t seem to be going the way I had planned. They are willing to push me by asking hard questions and encouraging me to ask them of myself. They also work with me to interpret responses to survey questions that are asked of teachers with whom we work to provide a deeper and more valuable learning experience. This in turn, is a precursor for me to ask questions of the teachers in the meetings and professional development situations I facilitate to push them to the next level of learning.

Hearing is important and necessary, but it is the questions that lead us to learning.

Intentional and Practical Professional Learning

Today on twitter I had a short conversation with a colleague about professional learning. It went like this:Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 5.00.18 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 5.03.40 PM

Recently I have found myself frustrated about what I view as a fixed mindset on the part of many of our teachers. I am working hard, both by myself and with another PD provider at our district to create meaningful and timely professional learning for our elementary teachers. They are wanting time to work together with other teachers from the district to walk through our new curriculum and discuss the problems and successes that others are having. I have taken this to heart, and have been working with K-2 and 3-5 math leads from each site monthly. I have changed the topics and plans for these meetings based on the needs I am hearing from teachers, as well as the discussions that come up during these meetings.

I have also created a google survey for all teachers asking what their immediate needs are, and based on those responses have been working with our Lead In professional development center to create time once a month for teachers from all sites to come together and participate in training on things they are requesting, work together on lesson planning and problem solving, and discuss their concerns and needs with teachers from two of our sites who have been using our new curriculum for the past 1-2 years and get ideas from them on organization, prioritizing, and how to facilitate classroom conversations. We ask for feedback from each of these meetings, and no matter how much we use this and try to meet needs, there are many unhappy teachers.

I have found myself creating a mindset in the midst of planning some of these sessions, asking myself questions like, “Why work so hard at this? Many of them are not going to find this valuable.” “Why do they show up if they feel there is nothing of value happening at these sessions?” You get the idea. I’m glad to have had this conversation today because it reminds me that I am in charge of my mindset, and I definitely want to be one with a growth mindset. I have learned so much in the past two years on twitter, blogging, and sharing my ideas with colleagues in meetings, professional development settings, and at conferences. The feedback is something I take very seriously, and stretch my thinking by using it to plan my next steps. It is often difficult to separate all this when we are so close to the heart of the work happening, and it helps to have someone on the outside push us and ask the hard questions.

I need to continue to work hard to meet the needs of our teachers and not take their responses personally. I need to continue collaborating and talking with my colleagues on twitter, in my professional development capacities, and reflecting on the work I am doing and striving to make it the most meaningful I can. I need to support the work to prioritize needs for our teachers also, as some of them are feeling so overwhelmed they are struggling to make those decisions for themselves, and help them to problem solve these things and find solutions that will help them feel more successful in the classroom.

I have to continue to grow and learn myself, so that I can be a strong support and encouragement to the teachers with whom I work.

The Parent Trap

Our county office invited parents out for a night of “Common Core Mathematics”. We are a district of approximately 20,000 students, so, lots of parents. Earlier in the week they had reported to my colleague and me that 65 parents had signed up, and they did not know whether they were parents of primary or secondary students. We had decided to split the group, I would work with primary parents and she would work with secondary. When I arrived to set up that evening, the director told me that they now had 90 parents registered to attend. OK, that works.

Dinner was served first. My room started as a set up for 60 parents. Throughout dinner more table and chairs were added. I think the last count for my room was 75, and I know my colleague was spilling out of hers. We were excited, lots of parents who were wanting to hear about how to learn with their kids this new way of looking at math.

I had an agenda. I told parents that if this did not meet their needs I would work with them to do my best to meet their needs. I was ready, I am working with parents. I started with a 1st grade lesson. I was the teacher, they were the students. The lesson went well, we were working with some domino cards and discussing different ways to create the number 6 by having them predict which number would be under a covered section of the domino, showing me ways to create 6 on their fingers, making connections to addition and subtraction, talking about their predictions. Then the fun started. I passed out this student page, and the parent trap began. Unfortunately, I slipped into it, a bit. I asked parents to review the page, and think about what they notice, and what they wonder.

I asked for things they noticed first. Several talked about the dominoes, how they were arranged, the example above and how they were seeing different ways to show numbers and addition. Then I asked what they wondered. Hands went up, and the hijack began: “I wonder why there are blanks all over the page, and if there’s a really good reason for it. I wonder why I have to solve the same problem so many times when I already know the answer. I wonder why I’m spending time doing this, when I could be working on addition in the “normal” way and still learn how to do it.” You get the idea. I thanked them for their wonderings, and then tried to get the focus back on the work itself. At this point, there were approximately 5 parents who felt they had the floor, and when I would ask questions, they would steer the conversation back to things like, “Why did my kid not get full credit even though he knew the answer?” “My kids are doing ok, why change what we are doing,” etc. You know the drill, the “I hate Common Core” crowd. I admit, here’s where I got trapped. I allowed this to happen for approximately 10 minutes. I then brought it back around, and we were able to look at a fourth grade lesson.

Here’s where the magic happened. We went through the lesson. Parents were telling me about the pattern, what they saw and felt would happen in other rows, challenged each other, really rich conversation. Then one parent said, “Isn’t this just a ratio?” I walked over to the chart paper I was recording their conversation on, and wrote the word “ratio”. I then asked what others thought. Once again, “Why didn’t you just tell us this was a ratio, and explain how to do it?” I then did a quick, direct teaching lesson on ratios, what they look like, the fact that they are a relationship between two different numbers, they can be represented in three different ways, etc. Then I asked, “Which one of these lessons gave you a better understanding?” AH HA! The first one of course.

One parent asked, “How would you do the last problem?” I handed out grid paper, and we talked about how kids would approach the problem. Then I pointed to the number 280 and said, “What do you notice about this number?” A parent told me that it was 28 x 10. I agreed that there would be someone who notice that, would have a sudden “ah ha” about how to solve the problem, and would explain that to the class. My last big question to the group, “Why do we cross out a zero at the end of a number when dividing by 10?” The responses, “Because we were told to. Because it works.” I asked, “How many knew when they were learning to divide, that crossing out the zero meant you were dividing by 10?” Two hands went up.

Enough said.

This post is a part of Kathy Perret’s #EduCoach Blog Challenge. You can read more about it here.

Encouragement

The blogs that I have had the opportunity to read the past 2-3 weeks during the #edublog challenge have been inspiring. I love reading and learning about the work that others are doing, and how that work affects the learning of our kids. This is my second year at a district level coaching position, and I’m beginning to feel more confident about interacting with the teachers and encouraging them in their work.

Sitting in on planning time with grade level groups has been amazing. Often they will start by asking me questions. I am getting better at giving answers for the ones that are simple, to begin the interactions and to help relieve any discomfort or anxiety that might be a hindrance to accomplishing work. After this, the conversation usually starts as we begin to look at the upcoming week and discuss the lessons and outcomes the teachers are hoping for their students. It gets easier here for me to begin asking the questions, and allowing teachers to think about what they would like to accomplish with their lessons, and what will be productive and not overwhelming for their students. As these conversations play out, teachers begin to realize they do know what they need to be doing, and that they do know their students, their needs, and their strengths. It is a wonderful time of “ah ha” and “I’m glad we talked about that, I was worried, concerned, afraid, etc.”

These “ah ha’s” are often more exciting for me than the ones I would see in students in the classroom. I know these will be affecting the learning of a classroom full of learners, and that teachers are beginning to feel confident about using the new program, their own learning and teaching, and the conversations and learning of their students. It is so powerful to see these changes occurring in the confidence of our students and the teachers. They still look at me as they are making decisions, as if they want my approval. I try to stay with, “I like, I wonder, and How will you know” and let them be the final say on what they plan. They will feel so much better about what they are doing that way, and be more confident as they move on through the program.

Last month was so stressful, as we all fought our way through understanding and becoming comfortable with the change in instruction, the increased time needed for planning and learning ourselves, and focusing more on the teaching and learning than the newness of the program and the struggles to implement. There are still struggles, but it is noticeably decreasing, and teachers are beginning to enjoy the fact that they are learning things that the didn’t understand before, and they can celebrate kids seeing new ways of thinking and understanding the math themselves.

This feels so much better this month, and I look forward with anticipation to the changes that each month brings.

This post is a part of Kathy Perret’s #EduCoach Blog Challenge. You can read more about it here.

Constantly Learning and Growing

This year our district has adopted new math programs at all levels. At the elementary level we have adopted Bridges, from The Math Learning Center. It is an inquiry based program, encouraging students to think deeply about mathematics, numbers and their relationships. We changed to this program from enVision, which teachers were constantly saying they disliked and wanted changed. Of course, the change is huge, and now teachers are struggling with time to plan lessons, and the lessons themselves which require facilitation of mathematical discussions and learning by investigation, rather than “I do, we do, you do”. Also, teachers are requesting more training, which can be helpful and yet, not what I really think they need.

In response to the cries for help and challenges we have put a couple of things into place. I have monthly meetings with “math leads” both K-2 and 3-5 from each site where we discussion implementation, assessment, lesson facilitation and other topics as they arise from teachers. We also have Lead In Napa in our district, an “in-house” professional learning program through which I am conducting monthly collaboration times with teachers from all sites on a rotating basis: K-2 and 3-5. So far we have had one 3-5 meeting which was very successful and have a K-2 meeting planned next week. We already have quite a few teachers signed up. It is exciting to see teachers coming together across the district to collaborate, share their experience and frustrations, and talk. The best thing is I’m hearing from teachers across the district that they are feeling heard.

The last thing I have been working on lately is getting out to sites to sit in on their grade level PLC collaboration time to answer questions, clarify expectations, and make face to face contact with teachers. This seems to be having the greatest impact. When some of these teachers start talking about how hard this is, they look at me, see me listening, and actually stop themselves a lot of time and begin to ask questions about how to make things work. I have offered to do model lessons and co-teaching with many of these groups, and have been taken up on the offer. Not only do I get to support teachers, I get to play math with kiddos. Best of both worlds.

It’s often difficult to work in a leadership position, but can be so rewarding.

This post is a part of Kathy Perret’s #EduCoach Blog Challenge. You can read more about it here.

New Curriculum Excitement

We just completed our fourth week of school. Our district has new math adoptions K-12. Grades 6-12 are doing well. They knew about their adoption last year, were working in May and June to organize, pace, and collaborate around their new materials and focusing their energies on the changes required. K-5 is a completely different story.

Our adoption was finalized in June. Teachers were given on-line access to materials during the summer, Trainings were scheduled for the first week of August, and for a myriad of reasons many teachers did not make it to these trainings. We are experiencing the same difficulties that every district across the nation is experiencing, staff turnover, lack of subs, and PD scheduling difficulties. We scheduled a second round of training this past week, but could only schedule a total of 70 teachers for this. A handful were called back to class because of sub issues, and we still have approximately 20 teachers who have not been to a training at all. I’m actually feeling pretty good about this, since we have 340 teachers at the K-5 level in our district, but it’s never a good thing for a teacher not to have some introduction to their new materials. Especially if math causes them anxiety, and the new materials require inquiry based learning and constructivist teaching.

That’s where we are. I have felt overwhelmed the previous three weeks, with trying to get materials to sites,  responding to teacher emails from teachers who suddenly realized that they probably weren’t going to be able to just jump into this curriculum without some introduction, and many other issues. Labor day weekend gave me the opportunity to reorganize my thinking and priorities. This week I made it a point to talk to site level coaches, get into classrooms and encourage teachers, sit in on grade level planning, help teachers to prioritize their learning and teaching with the new materials and routines, and be visible. The results were amazing. My stress levels decreased, and anxiety levels are decreasing at sites. I am going to address teachers at two sites during staff meetings this coming week, and sit in on full day planning for grade level groups at two sites. I still have five more sites to visit, but we are getting there.

My first math lead meetings will be on the fourteenth and twenty-first of this month, and on September 23 our PD support team called, “Lead In” is working with me to schedule a 2 hour support and collaboration time for grade 3-5 teachers across our district during early release time. We will attempt to do this each month for both primary and intermediate grade level teachers. My hope is that they will see this time as a valuable asset to them, time to problem solve with other grade level teachers and have support available for questions around inquiry and the facilitation of classroom discussions. What seemed like an overwhelming prospect three weeks ago is beginning to seem possible, with the support and help of other teams in our district.

I’m excited about our fist math lead meetings, two teachers have stepped up to share their expertise in a portion of our new curriculum, and we will be working on problem solving and collaborating on how to answer questions and support teachers at individual sites.

More to come.