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

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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.

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A Moment in Time

Although it has been many years, you are as close to me as you were the last day I saw you. I remember the sparkle in your eyes when you would smile at me, the intensity in them when you were searching me for more than the words I was saying, and the peace I would find in them when I just needed a friend.

I discuss my thoughts, and share my deepest emotions with you even now. You are the heart and soul of me, my closest friend and the one I will always look to for confidence, encouragement, and someone to believe in me.

I pray you have found peace, happiness and love. There is an emptiness in my life that cannot be filled.

Sometimes you have to move on. . .

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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.

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.

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.

Math Talk

I had two of my grandkids for the weekend, as their parents took a quick trip to Montana. Lilli is seven, in second grade, and pretty quick with numbers and math ideas. She enjoys the challenge of learning and seeing different ways of doing things. Gwen will be nine in November, in fourth grade. She had some difficulty last year with math, felt very frustrated and decided she wasn’t good at it. We worked together quite a bit over the summer. I was able to identify some of her problem areas, and she started the year with 100% on her first math test and is feeling much more confident at this time.

We had some wonderful moments this weekend in both math and science discussions. I’m going to stick to the math discussions here, the science will have to be another blog.

The weekend started with the game Math Dice. This was with their Auntie Heidi, and we decided that only the operations addition and subtraction could be used, because Lilli hasn’t had experience with multiplication and division, yet. Gwen was very quick at first, seeing the equations right away, and Lilli was getting frustrated, because she doesn’t like to think that she isn’t good at something related to math. Heidi, being very quick herself, changed the rules of the game. She said that once the first person shares their equation, the others need to find another way to solve the problem. Lilli was all over this. One thing she is very good at is finding another way to solve problems. Lilli ended up winning the game, much to Gwen’s surprise. Gwen was a good sport about it.

On the way home, in the car, Gwen starting talking about the game and how she would have won if we would have allowed multiplication and division. Lilli said she didn’t understand those and it wouldn’t be fair. I suggested we talk about multiplication and see if we couldn’t help Lilli understand what is happening with multiplication. I suggested 2 x 3. I asked Lilli to tell us about skip counting, and Lilli gave an excellent description:

L: Well, you put all your objects into equal piles of a number, like 2 or 3, and then you count by that number, like 2, 4, 6, 8 . . .  until you’ve counted all your objects. If there’s one or more left over, then the piles aren’t equal.

G: I’ve got this Nonnie. Lilli, multiplication is like skip counting. You put your objects into equal groups, then you count how many groups of the objects you have, and that’s what you’re multiplying.

L: I totally get this! So, for 2 x 3, you have 3 groups of 2 objects!

G: Yes! Or. . .

L: 2 groups of 3 objects! (Did I mention she loves to find another way to solve the problem?)

G: So, if we are looking at 3 x 4. (She’s not too good at problem strings, yet)

L: We would have 3 groups of 4 objects, or 4 groups of 3 objects. (Maybe it didn’t matter)

G: Exactly! How many is that?

L: 3, 6, 9, 12! I can count it by the fours too, do you want me to do that?

At that point we were home. So we didn’t have her do that.

Later, we were putting together some materials for Bridges. Our district has adopted Bridges this year, and teachers have been complaining about how long it takes to get organized. I brought home a set of fourth grade teacher materials to problem solve this. My granddaugthers decided to help me. We opened the boxes, and if you are unfamiliar with Bridges, teacher materials come in 3 large boxes. One box is equivalent to all the teacher guides, 10 in all, including Number Corner and Assessments. The other two boxes area a bonanza! They are full of manipulatives! Cubes, square pieces, geometric shapes, tape measures, measuring cups, scales, dice, game pieces, cards, and so much more! We had quite a problem on our hands. I had purchased 8 plastic containers at the dollar store to organize materials, but we quickly realized that our colored squares and geometric pieces weren’t going to fit in the ones I bought. We had a great discussion about what we needed to do, which included estimation.

We had six bags of geometric shapes. Three of the bags fit into one container. The girls knew immediately it would take two containers to hold them all, but also made the comment that it would be so much better to have them all in one.  We then discussed what we would need to find to hold all of them.

We had a similar problem with the colored squares. We had three bags of those, and two fit into one of the containers. Another discussion ensued, and we went off to Walmart to fix the problem. I wish I could put in our discussion at Walmart, but this is already quite a long blog, and it was full of estimating, discussion and arguing between the two. I let them handle it, we came home with two containers that worked perfectly!

I can’t wait to tell you about the scales, measuring, estimation and science discussions! More to follow!