The Year in Review

This has been one of the most challenging years I can remember, and I’ve had a few. I have had to rethink my teaching and student learning several times and am feeling like I came up short.

While reading this blog this morning, I was reminded about learning, assessing, and approaching the classroom from this point of view, rather than the “old school” teach and test. I found myself back in a groove that was not comfortable this year, because I felt overwhelmed by the changes I had made in my life, and the challenge of being in a new situation once again. It’s definitely not a good reason, it just is.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to begin again. For me this is occurring in many ways: back to the classroom after supporting teachers for several years, teaching in a new state, teaching block scheduling over a semester rather than having a year to connect with students  and their learning, and personally learning to assimilate to a new area and way of living, or at least one I haven’t been in since I was young. My gratitude is for the opportunity to once again evaluate myself as a teacher, as a leader of learning, as a facilitator, and as a role model. It is good for us to have new opportunities to do this and to take a step back and evaluate our ability to adapt to new roles and situations. I was confident I could do this, but the magnitude of the changes this year make me realize I fell short, however, I am also realizing that I am strong. Instead of the messages of my past, “you’re a failure, etc” I am asking myself what needs to change and where do I start?

This is a powerful place to be. I can’t wait to see what I have learned about myself this year, what my students have learned about me, and what I will be when the next school year begins. Thank you Dave for pushing my thinking and not allowing me to fall into the “woe is me” thinking that I am capable of doing, especially when fatigued and stressed. Thank you MTBoS once again for being there when I was able to get on twitter looking for encouragement and ideas to get me through, and thank you teachers everywhere for your continual drive to push through another year, and return the next to do it again, even when the challenges can feel huge and unyielding.

I am also encouraged by my new administrators. Both my principal and vice-principal have told me how happy they are to have me here, that they feel that I am a strong teacher and bring tools and ideas that they have been desiring in the school for a while. When I look at my teaching this year, I’m wondering what in the world they saw, but I have to remind myself not to discourage in what I didn’t see in me, but be encouraged that I know I can do better, and just do what needs to be done to make sure next year is better than this one.

I already have ideas and have begun making a list. I’ll be doing the work of prioritizing and refining over the next two months. We are also given multiple opportunities for Professional Development, for FREE, here in Tennessee, and I have signed up for several, grateful for these opportunities to improve my practice also.

I’d love to hear from any of you and your thoughts about this, or ideas to help push my thinking forward.

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Reclaiming the “Groove”

In 2017 my husband and I, and my daughter and her family, made a huge decision. We packed our homes and moved 2200 miles across the country. We did this for many reasons, and it was one of several changes for me especially.

I left a position at the district, supporting K-12 teachers in implementing the common core math standards, changing their thinking about classroom teaching, assessment, student talk and many other things, and returned to the classroom in a rural district. This is huge for several reasons. The district I was employed in was a large, suburban district, with 3 comprehensive high schools, and one specialty high school, 4 middle schools, and 19 elementary schools. The district in which I am now employed has two elementary schools, one middle school, and high school is split with ninth graders at one site, and 10-12 at another. Our district covers 593 square miles, most of them rural areas, and a population of approximately 33,000. Many of our students travel by one or more buses, with travel times of 15 to 60 minutes each way to attend school. This is one reason there is a large home school population.

I am currently teaching geometry and algebra II. We have block schedules of 90 minutes, and a course runs for a semester. Add that to new curriculum, new school routines, new social routines, and some standard differences and you can begin to understand the stress I felt in the past 5 months. Our new semester began in January, and I am beginning to feel like my legs are underneath me a bit. I found last semester that I truly missed the support of my twitter colleagues, and the MTBoS. I have recently begun to reconnect with some of them, and am hoping to get back to the chats that I enjoyed so much.

I have had three observations. The first two occurred during the first semester, and I truly cringed each time I thought of someone observing my teaching. I haven’t felt that way in a long time, but the pressure of knowing I wasn’t doing the job I knew I could do, the change from support to being back in the classroom, and having administrators who didn’t know me at all pressed on me in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. The last one was different. My principal asked for a lesson plan before the observation, and observed the entire 90 minute block. I was nervous at first, the students in my school have not been used to collaborating in class, and I have been working hard at encouraging discourse and an environment of checking our conjectures and revising as necessary, rather than doing it correctly. This is quite a change for them and they do struggle with it.

The students made me proud. The went to the board to put problem solving ideas up for discussion, they worked in pairs to question and talk about what they did and didn’t understand, and even participated in some “notice and wonder” about differences of square and conjugate terms. They used vocabulary, they challenged each other, made corrections to each other’s work on the board, and showed enthusiasm I hadn’t yet seen. My principal was pleased. She told me that what she had seen in my classroom was what she had been hoping for since she began at the school. She also discussed how some of my geometry students may end up in my algebra II classes next year and this will encourage them to continue to work this way and be prepared for college.

I am grateful to begin to feel like I am creating an atmosphere of learning and discourse once again, and hope to expand and continue this, as I know this is best for students. At least I’m heading in the right direction once again.

The Sound of Learning

I have had the honor of visiting many classrooms across the district in the past 6 weeks. I have been to every one of our sites, some of them more than once. As September became October, things changed. What started as a stiff struggle, has become laughter, shouting, arguing. Some people would call it chaos. In my teacher training program, my supervisor called it “organized chaos”.  I call it the sound of learning.

It brings me such joy to hear kids asking questions like, “How can we know if the two pieces of clay are the same size?” and “Can you explain to me how you knew that?” I love watching classroom discussions where a teacher asks a question and every single hand in the room is waving and you hear the, “oh oh oh” of “pick me, pick me”. I love watching kids sitting on the carpet, wiggling their fingers, writing with fingers in the carpet, looking at the ceiling with their eyes rolling back and forth as they visualize numbers, figures, and manipulate them mentally to try to figure out an answer. I especially love how they come up with their own language when they are trying so hard to explain what they are thinking and just don’t have the vocabulary yet. What I’m loving the most, is that they are doing it. They are figuring, they are mentally working to solve, they are searching for language to tell us what they are thinking.

There are wonderful signs across our district of changes in the way kids are thinking and approaching mathematics. Principals are noticing, teachers are noticing, and kids are noticing. Parents are noticing, and have lots of questions, and teachers are reaching out to each other to find out how to share these things with the parents. At our last district PL sessions for K-2 teachers we had 45 teachers sign up! The sound of learning was happening there also, as teachers shared their fears, their wins, asked questions, and just plain talked to each other. It was incredible.

Today I was asked to model a Number Corner lesson in a fifth grade classroom and a Kindergarten classroom. What fun this was! In the 5th grade class it began slowly. We were using clues about top view, right side view and front view of three-dimensional figures to determine which of a group of figures was being portrayed. Kids were shy to answer at first, but I kept asking and referring them back to the previous figure they had unveiled. One of them built this figure out of unifix cubes, and we compared what we saw in the three dimensional figure with what was being seen on the cards. Lots of “ah has” happened here, and as one boy described, “on the card we see what happens if the figure is rolled over by a tire”. OK, I can go with that. After we cleared that up, suddenly a large portion of the group who had been leery about making predictions and sharing became very animated. One got up and asked if they could work on building the next figure, which we had not yet uncovered. This led to more discussion as we compared the built figure to the three views we had, and kids began to choose which figure was being modeled. When we uncovered the picture, there were lots of “yeahs” and “darns”. I took a little more time with this discussion, because I could see that kids were beginning to warm up and feel more confident about sharing their thoughts as we went along. The teacher gave me permission to do this. When we finished the entire group asked, “can we do some more?” How cool is that? I told them I had to leave now, and there was a collective “aaaah”. Talk about feeling welcome. I promised I’d come back and we’d talk some more and they were happy.

In the kinder class, we were looking at leaves and patterns in pictures of leaves. The leaves were changing colors and the number of leaves was increasing every fifth card. It took a bit for them to see this, but then we talked through the patterns together several times, and they loved it. We counted the days we have been in school by tens and ones, and they told me what they next number should be (39). Lastly, on a number line with four numbers showing, between 1 and 20, I asked kids to tell me what number should be under a certain card. Many of them had their hand up immediately, without counting from one. It is so exciting to see our kids becoming so fluent with numbers and their thoughts so early. I can’t wait to see how our current kinder’s do as they grow up with this type of math learning.

I feel so blessed to be a part of the changes occurring in our classrooms this year.

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

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.

Coherence

Monday I facilitated a meeting of elementary teachers. We are meeting to discuss assessment, pacing and piloting new curriculum resources for our district. Our discussion Monday was regarding the coherence of the K-5 CCSSM and we started looking at assessment. We’ll continue that discussion next month, but the coherence discussion brought up some great comments. I started by giving each group a copy of the K-5 math standards on a page. I’ve linked them into CCSS Math Standards on this blog.

We then took this Coherence activity from Achieve the Core and in groups began the work of looking at how the fraction standards relate in grades 3 to 5. A couple of minutes into this activity, one group had an “ah ha” moment, and started back at the Kindergarten standards. The discussions that occurred after this activity were amazing and exciting. One teacher commented, “If I teach 1st grade, I need to know what the Kindergarten and 2nd grade standards say.” Other teachers began to discuss how this could help with creating differentiated activities, creating a lower entry point and extending ideas for students who catch on quickly. A coach’s dream.

The assessment discussion didn’t go as well as I had hoped, often bring up assessment causes many teachers to become defensive, and talk about “bad” assessments, rather than the work of looking at how to create better assessments. We started looking at the 3rd grade practice exam for Smarter Balanced, and tried to concentrate on, “What are kids being asked to do, and how are they being asked to do it?” We’ll dive into this discussion more next month at our next meeting, with two more assessments. I’m hoping we can start to have the conversation about how assessments should be created, and what we are hoping they will tell us about what our kids know and don’t know.

Another conversation we will soon be having is piloting curriculum resources. I am beginning to preview materials along with another teacher, and we are working on creating spreadsheets to compare materials and look at what might be non-negotiable for teachers. I really want the focus to be on how to teach the standards, and not about the materials, however, we have a large contingent of teachers who are not there. It will be interesting and quite a learning experience I’m sure.

More to come on this journey.

Total Instructional Alignment

I spent the past two days at the Alameda County Office of Education with six of my colleagues from the district at a workshop for Total Instructional Alignment. This was lead by and based on the book written by Lisa Carter. She wrote the book before the CCSS, however, the resources and process that she showed us is more than adequate for working with the CCSS. It follows the process of unpacking the standards, creating learning targets, determining assessment focus and aligning instruction. This work aligns very well with what we have been working toward in our district with site academic specialists and teachers. The resources and work we did the past two days were eye opening and will definitely help us to extend and deepen what we have started.

It was also great to be there with most of the district level academic specialists, working together and discussing the work we were doing. One of the things we are hoping to work toward is consistency at all levels and in all disciplines throughout the district, so working together today was a great experience toward this. It really helps for everyone to receive and synthesize the same information and being able to discuss our impressions and understandings. I know that I would love to see this kind of work happening at sites and in grade level teams across the district, the comprehension of the standards and instructional practices to support them would be very powerful for our teachers and students.

We all agreed that one of the most powerful things we saw this week was unpacking the standards for a unit plan, recording the same standards from the previous grade level at the beginning of the plan, putting the current grade level standards at the end of the plan, and realizing that the unit plan is the steps to get from the first set to the second. The realization that the standards record the learning outcomes that students should reach by the end of the year really created an understanding for us of what learning in the classroom could look like and how it could be scaffolded for students in different stages of learning. I’m excited to continue digging through the grade levels and creating plans with teachers while gaining deeper understanding of the process of learning that can occur within our classrooms.

This was great timing for us at the elementary level, as we have just created a math curriculum committee and are beginning the work of looking at standards, assessments, pacing and new resources for our teachers. We will be piloting materials next fall which gives us the opportunity to really dig in and make much clearer decisions about good teaching and learning.

Reflections and Looking Forward

It seems fitting that I sit here reflecting on December 31. Looking back at 2014, and looking forward to 2015. This year has brought so many changes for me. I moved out of the classroom, to the district as a math coach; from high school, which I have loved for the past 11 years, to elementary, with which I felt overwhelmed at first, but am realizing I am coming to love as much as high school; from someone who felt confident and able to step out and take risks, to someone who has stepped out and is taking risks, and feeling again somewhat unsure and less than confident.

I know these steps are important, and taking risks means that we have to leave our safety net, I didn’t realize that the risks I was taking previously were still leaving me over the safety net. I have had many moments since August where I felt less than capable and unable to be what I felt I was supposed to be. I stepped into this position with so many dreams and plans, and still have them, but as I learn more about myself, my position, and the learning and growth that I am experiencing and will continue to experience, I realize that I needed to make this change. I have been a good classroom teacher, and have a lot to share with other teachers and this position has put me at enough “dis-ease” to realize that I still have a lot to learn along the way. My father has always told me that when you stop living you start to die, and I know that I am not yet ready to die, so I need to continue living. This means I need to continue growing and learning.

I have struggled quite a bit this year. I have made several comments, which I thought were in fun, about becoming “old”, and I’m now realizing that in doing so I made myself feel and believe that I was becoming old. Too old to grow, too old to learn, and too old to dream. I have walked through some difficult feelings the past 3 months, and have come to realize that I still have the right to dream, and that I am only as old as I think I am.  I haven’t been able to get to the back to the point of believing in “happily ever after” again, but maybe that’s a childhood dream, and mature dreams are more realistic.

As I look ahead to 2015, I have some plans to for which to strive, and some regrets from the past to leave behind. I have some learning and growing to do, some friendships to renew, and some yet to make.  Most of all, I am going to work on creating a dream.

Thank you all for being a part of my growth and my learning. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my twitter buddies, the MTBoS, and my colleagues who have continually encouraged me to be the best I am able to be, and when I achieve that, to dream bigger and better.

Have a blessed 2015 all.