Reflections on Moving Forward in 2016

I’m going to begin by saying that this past week was a whirlwind of emotions for me.  You see, I was an avid Hillary supporter, and I was so very hopeful as we entered election day. However, this post isn’t a political post.  I won’t share my views on the Democratic Party’s platform or my opinions on President-Elect Trump.  Instead, I’d like to share my own reflections on moving forward.

November 8th-Election Day Excitement

In the evening of November 8, I brought my boys to the polling booth so I could talk to them about the importance of voting, explain why I was choosing the way to vote on certain issues, and engage them in the process.  We were excited.  Finally, it was Election Day!  They gave me their input on how to vote on the ballot initiatives and asked questions about what a state representative and senator does.  We got our “I voted” stickers and proudly headed to Dunkin Donuts for an Election Day treat, in anticipation of the first woman being elected President of the United States.

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As the election results came in, my close friends and I quickly spiraled into despair as our hopeful enthusiasm turned into devastated disbelief.

Hope

But theimg_2542n…..I went to the Memorial Elementary School Veteran’s Day concert on Thursday, November 10th.  The most adorable children, ages 3-10, decked out in red, white, and blue, sang their hearts out to recognize our local servicemen and women.  That moment centered me.  It drowned out the noise and negativity of social media discourse and gave me hope for a bright future.

Here is a video clip of our students singing a song by Teresa Jennings called “One Nation.”

ONE NATION (Teresa Jennings)
Maybe we’re not the same color. Maybe we’re not the same race.
Maybe we don’t have the same beliefs or live in the same kind of place.
Maybe we think we’re too different. Maybe that’s simply not true.
Maybe I also have hopes and dreams, and maybe I share them with you, share with you, oh!

(CHORUS)
We are one nation, yes, we are one land!
Together in freedom, united we stand! Oh!
We are one nation, yes, we are one land!
Together in freedom, united we stand! Oh.

We are a rainbow of people. We have our own history.
We share a nation with common bonds, a nation where people are free.
We know that freedom is precious. We know the cost is extreme.
We share commitment and gratitude; we share our American Dream,
share our Dream, oh!

We are, we are, we are one nation!  3X’s
Ah! One nation!

BE THE CHANGE

So in keeping with my blog’s mantra, here are some reflections on how I am moving forward as an educator in a time of political change.

1. Seek First To Understand

First, I tried to read multiple articles about the election, including opposing political viewpoints, to seek to better understand the multitude of perspectives that will contribute to the leadership of the next four years.  In working with our students, we can try to foster a similar approach to help them navigate political discourse in a safe and productive manner.  This is more easily accomplished when one can learn to empathize and put themselves in another’s shoes.  It is difficult enough sometimes for adults to converse around divisive topics, so this is an important skill to help to develop in our students. Understanding people’s life stories and perspectives and “walking in their shoes” is essential to fostering civil discourse.  Here is a resource on teaching civil discourse.

2.  Have Faith in our Political Institutions

It was my 10-year-old son, who is currently studying the three branches of government, who helped remind me of the enduring strength of our democratic institutions.  This election is a great opportunity to remind our students about the strength of our political institution and history as a nation.  Here are a few strategies to help build the students’ knowledge and understanding of the process.

  • Use the historical events taking place to instruct them about topics like the peaceful transition of power.
  • Illustrate examples of how our government is designed based the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, so no matter who the president is, there are checks on that power.
  • Ensure students understand how the Bill of Rights was created to protect our fundamental rights such as speech, press, assembly, and religion (among many others).
  • Provide students with historical examples of how our country’s leadership and political leanings are like a pendulum that swing left and right, but eventually, move towards the middle.
  • Analyze the President-Elect’s appointments to key leadership roles and the significance of those roles

3.  Recognize that our Differences are our Strength

As we all move forward, we are witnessing numerous reactions to the election results.  I’ve seen some people check out from the world and social media.  Others are embracing movements such as the safety pin protest.  Some are fearful, while some are calling for Unity.  Others are hopeful and enthusiastic about the changes to come, while some are using their right to assemble in protests.  So what is an educator to do in these times? First, we need to make sure we remain neutral in our political leanings while at school. Second, we need to foster an environment where students can safely express their opinions and stand up for what they believe in.  Finally, we need to let our students know that our schools will be a safe haven where differences will be celebrated, respected, and protected.

Here is a great resource from Teaching Tolerance that offers various activities on countering bias, getting along, and engaging in civic  activities with students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mastering the 3 Rs: Relationships, Relationships, and Relationships

sparkHave you ever met someone who you just love to be in their presence?  They have that extra spark, they exude warmth, and they engage you immediately, usually with a radiant smile and a sincere inquiry into how you are doing.

I’m thinking of a few people that I love to be around and these are the actions they usually exhibit every time we meet:

 

–Greet me with a smileawesome

 

–Greet me by name

–Ask me something about my life (something they remembered from previous
conversations)

–Listen intently and actively as I respond

Why do I like these people so much?  First, they are great relationship builders.  They show how much they care about me to call me by my name, pay attention to what is important to me, and inquire further.  I feel safe and welcomed in their presence.  Their actions convey to me “YOU MATTER.”

These types of people are also great at opening up and sharing about themselves.  They share stories about their lives to connect others to them on a personal level.  They often are able to laugh at themselves and find humor everywhere.  They also aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and keep moving forward.

As educators, we are presented with opportunities for building relationships every moment of every day for 180 school days with our colleagues, with parents, but most importantly, with our students.  Do our actions consistently convey to our students “YOU MATTER”?   Do we notice them daily?

Check out this Ted Talk by Angela Maiers on the impact of noticing our students.

“The need to know you are valued is as deep as they come.” –Angela Maiers                         “I get to help people matter each day”–Angela Maiers

 

Here are some suggestions on how to expand your relationship building influence with students:

  1.  Let students know:

genius

2.  Noticing—Share with them what you notice about their progress, efforts, insights, and accomplishments with a simple:  “I noticed when…..”

3.  Intentionality–Track your own interactions with students.  Be intentional in monitoring what type of feedback you are giving them and how often.  Keep track of students you haven’t interacted with as frequently and take time to get to know them more.

4.  Passion–Discover your students’ passions and help them pursue them.

passion

5.  Celebrate successes–Seek out successes in the classroom and share them out beyond the classroom walls.

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Remember that as educators YOU MATTER a great deal as well.  As a parent (much like many parents each morning), I squeeze my boys really tight every morning, tell them I love them, and send them off to school hoping and praying they will feel safe, loved, in an environment filled with enthusiasm, positive relationships, learning, and passion-driven moments.

One year after the first day of school I asked my son …. “Did you like school?  Is your teacher nice?”  He looked perplexed, paused and replied,  “That’s a silly question, Mommy.  Of course I do.  All teachers are nice. If they weren’t, then why would they be a teacher?”  Thank you to all my educator friends for all that you do every day!  YOU MATTER!

In Defense of Civic Engagement

The last two weeks of political convention fervor have had their fair share of excitement, drama, anger, and celebratory moments, which are all bathed in political rhetoric.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I get a little excited when in the midst of an election season.

Picture1So much so, that when out with some friends, we were able to convince the nice waitress to let us take control of one of the TVs and switch it from a European soccer game to the convention.  A room full of 15 women  weren’t about to miss the live acceptance of the first woman to receive the nomination of a major political party.  Despite one’s political party inclination and thoughts about Hillary Clinton, it was a momentous historical event for American women and girls.

Civic Exposure At Home

Additionally, this week I was away one of the nights of the convention and as my husband and my boys were watching the speeches my husband posted the following Facebook post.

Picture2

You see,  Liam and I have been watching both conventions (Republican and Democratic) the last two weeks and I’ve been answering questions ranging from the second amendment, why some people are upset about increased immigration and why others embrace it,  and how people fall along different parts of the political spectrum. I do this for many reasons, but primarily because I want to carry on the civic education that I received as a child to my own children.

When thinking about my own political education, I remembered that it began at home.  Ithis week remembered that every Sunday morning I’d watch Meet the Press and This Week with my mom.  Even now, my boys know that we are going to stop their cartoons on Sunday morning so we can watch “George.”

I also remembered how in our house other TV programming stopped as we watched the conventions, both Democratic and Republican, to hear about what our political leaders were thinking.  I remembered how on every election day my mom would take me with her to the voting booth to emphasize the importance of civic participation. I remembered how excited I was when I went to vote for the first time at the age of 18.

Civic Exposure in School

constitutionWhile my civic engagement began in the home, it really took root in school.  I will never forget my 8th grade history teacher, Mr. Johnson, in Gardner, MA who would hold up a copy of the Constitution in his hand and say the following in the thickest of Massachusetts accents:  “You guys go around saying ‘this is awesome’ and ‘that is awesome,’” and then with a long drawn out pause, he would say “NOTHING IS TRULY AWESOME, EXCEPT FOR THE CONSTITUTION.” He told stories of political leaders who kept a copy of the constitution in their pocket to remind them of what was important about our nation and laws.

At the same time, I was able to be part of the Gardner Middle School History Club, where Mr. Goguen would take us on adventures throughout Massachusetts to study our local history and bring it to life.   It was with this group that I saw for the first time Plymouth Plantation, the Freedom Trail, and the battlefields of Lexington and Concord.  As a junior and a senior, I had Ms. Pisaruk, who I consider to be the most influential teacher in my life because she had the perfect balance of incredible content knowledge and enthusiasm about history and government, alongside high expectations for her students to be critical consumers and analysts.  It was because of her passion and inspiration that she instilled in me that I could make a difference in this world that I majored in government and legal studies and entered education.

The Need for Civic Education Today

In the midst of this current election, the need for comprehensive civic education is needed now more than ever.  In a world of a 24-7 news cycle, alongside Facebook feeds and Twitter discourse, to be an actively engaged civic participant, one needs to learn how to become a critical consumer of information.

The Massachusetts Board of Education has also recently recognized that as a result of our age of accountability with ELA and Math testing, we have gone too far away from civic education.   Therefore, it approved this year the following definition of College and Career Readiness and  Civic Preparation:

Key knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students should possess to be prepared to engage as active citizens include:

  • Core civic content knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge to different circumstances and settings.
  • Civic intellectual skills, including the ability to identify, assess, interpret, describe, analyze and explain matters of concern in civic life.
  • Civic participatory skills, including knowing how to work collaboratively in groups and organizational settings, interface with elected officials and community representatives, communicate perspectives and arguments, and plan strategically for civic change.
  • Civic dispositions including interpersonal and intrapersonal values, virtues and behaviors respect for freedom of speech and thought, respect for others, commitment to equality, capacity for listening, capacity to communicate in ways accessible to others, etc.).

It is great to see Massachusetts moving in the right direction to engage in a review of outdated social studies standards, to set up a committee to study civic engagement, but these bureaucratic processes will take time.  However, until the standards change,  educators face an immediate challenge to guide our students each day to make sense of our political environment, with limited classroom time for instruction and resources.

Our Challenge

Therefore, as we enter our classrooms this September with one of the most contentious presidential election seasons we have seen in our lifetime, we should consider the following questions:

  • What can we do to provide the enthusiasm, experience, and critical analysis like the ones I received from my own teachers?
  • What can we do to develop our students’ skills to discuss and debate political topics safely?
  • How can we share our personal stories of civic engagement to model for our students the importance of voting and engaging in our communities, as my mother did when she brought me to the polls each year?
  • Are we providing our students with a wide range of resources and commentary on political topics and then teaching them skills to critically analyze sources and point of views?
  • Are we promoting opportunities for our students to become active participants in the civic and political process?
  • Do we engage our students in experiential learning opportunities to better understand our local and national history as I once did in the History Club?
  • Do our students recognize the core beliefs and values as illustrated in our Constitution?  Would they think it is truly awesome? 🙂

Resources for Classroom Teachers

The following list can provide you with more information to support you in your work to increase civic discourse and education in our schools:

Shadow a Student: Collaboration, Creativity, Connections, and Culture

My shadow-a-student day began with a smiling selfie at our locker (boy do we look excited!)


My student happily escorted me into the fourth-grade class and showed me where to put my snack bag, pick up my morning work, turn in my homework, and the outline for the day on the board.  

Concern
My neighbor informed me that I had finish all of the morning work of the week Monday-Wednesday that I hadn’t completed yet.  Immediately my palms start sweating as I grasp the pencil and get to work on 4th-grade math.  Question 1 and 2….got it.  I was amazed at how quickly I turned into the 4th-grade student of yesteryear…. “What if I get it wrong?  What if I run out of time?  Everyone is working on their spelling sort.  I’ll have to catch-up quickly.”  I’m already anxious and it is only about 9:05am.  Question 3?  I already have a question….on subtracting fractions.  I finally finish the problems and move onto spelling sorts.

Collaboration 
Time to get ready for social studies.  Okay…that was my major in college and what I used to teach.  I’m excited for this subject!  I was lucky to be matched up with two great partners who had already done a ton of research on our national landmarks report.  Our topic was Yellowstone National Park and it was time for us to  write about why so many people come to visit this area of the country. We got right to work on our topic sentence, key details, and a clincher.  Not much help was needed from me as my partners had mastered the topic sentence, transition words, and clincher.  I was amazed at how collaboratively they worked together, sharing ideas, and asking for input from one another in respectful way.

Creativity
“This is so fun!” exclaimed one of the students during a review game in social studies.  We moved together as a group for a fun review game using the Plickers tool to check our understanding of the key details in the unit with our teacher getting instant feedback through a mobile app.  Because the teacher decided to take a risk with technology, all of us (including me) were on the edge of our seats to try and get the next answer correct during the creative use of technology.

Creative opportunities didn’t end in social studies and they flourished in our library special where we got to work in groups on creating a fairy tale based on the story of the Three Little Pigs.  This activity probably was the most fun of the day (next to recess).  One of the girls in my group explained it the best.  “This is awesome because we get to use our imagination!”  Our story title?  The Three Ice Cream Cones and the Big Bad Unicorn.  What was the setting?  Do you even have to ask?  Of course, it is set in the Ice Cream Forest where we had a house made of sprinkles, a house made of cookies, and a S’more castle (their idea) surrounded by a caramel moat (my idea) and protected by gummy bears.  I also learned that apparently it is a well-known fact that 4th graders think unicorns rock and should be in stories as often as possible, along with rainbows and sprinkles.

Our final opportunity for creativity took place in during ELA where we learned how to draw a rocket and then compare the point of views of two characters in a story we read.  The best part… (after we added in all of our evidence from the text)….we got to decorate our rocket!  This is where I reverted back to my simple skill of making a heart pattern that I learned in 3rd grade (old habits die hard)….which was apparently a big hit with my 4th-grade friends.  “How did you DO that?” they asked.  “I’m making stars!” they shared.  “I’m making flowers, colorful ones!” they added.

Connections


What was the best part of my day?  You guessed it…it was an opportunity to connect with our students.  In this position, while I have access to be around students across the district, but I do miss the close connections I used to have both as a teacher, coach, and a building leader.  What did I learn about my new friends in the short time of a day?

I learned that Ashleigh brings the best snacks ever, knows how to do a math tape diagram much better than I do, and wishes she could have more creative projects because she loves to draw.

I learned that Andrew is an excellent gymnast, is extremely curious, and is willing to tie the shoes of a friend in class who needed extra help.

I learned that Rachael is a great writer and was able to give me some great tips on a quality clincher. She is a leader in class who many students seek out to ask questions and she loves school and loves life.  She also is extremely inclusive of all students (including me!)

 

 




Culture
Thank you to the teachers who put up with me as their student for the day and treated me like every other student.  I was buddied up with many students who explained the ropes to me.  They couldn’t have been any more welcoming.  There was more than one occasion where I was clearly advised of the rules such as following the directions on the math assignment (which I kept trying to ignore drawing out my math models), the sign-out procedure for going to the bathroom (apparently I don’t have to ask permission), and staying in my section of the playground (I tried to go to a different section by the parking lot).  Most importantly they taught me….”4th Grade is AWESOME!!”

 

Be More Dog: Shadow a Student

There he was on stage, my longtime colleague Aaron Polansky taking a risk on a new keynote called “The Courage to Run.”  Although I have known Aaron for over 10 years, I had never seen him do a full keynote.  I’ve probably seen him do more karaoke songs instead (and man does he have a great voice!)  However, I wasn’t worried, though, because I knew he had the passion and ability to share some thought-provoking ideas; he did not disappoint.

In preparation for the event, we discussed the theme of the PD day “Inspire ’16” and our goal was for him to offer inspiration to teachers and staff on connecting with students, fostering a growth mindset, and building a positive school culture.  In 45 minutes, he had us laughing, reflecting, and (dare I say) crying as he challenged us to think differently, to change worlds through our words, and take risks.

Image result for green grow ripe rot

The one line that has continued to resonate with me that Aaron shared was, “When you are green you grow and when you are ripe you rot.”

What better image then to image yourself growing or rotting?  I’d choose to grow, wouldn’t you?  But growing isn’t always comfortable and involves taking risks.

Image result for growth and comfort do not coexist

As Ginni Rometty, CEO and Chairwoman of IBM, sums it up:  “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before.  Growth and comfort do not coexist.”


You don’t grow by staying comfortable, but instead it often takes great risks to gain great rewards. 

 

 
 
Instead of staying comfortable, growth can come from embracing new opportunities.  
Sometimes you have to take a chance and perhaps “Be More Dog.”

 

In keeping with this mindset, I will be taking on a challenge that district and school leaders have been participating in across the U.S. this month called the Shadow a Student Challenge.  This challenge’s purpose is to provide leaders with opportunities to walk a day in the shoes of students to better empathize with the student experience.  For me, this challenge is a perfect match of continuing the spirit of Aaron’s message of getting to know our students as individuals.  It also is an opportunity to challenge myself to take a risk in doing something completely different, but with something that has the potential of a great reward.  What better way for me to become more familiar with our curriculum and impact on students than experiencing it alongside our students?
Beginning next week I will start my journey as a MURSD student with my first  shadow (hopefully of many in the district) of a 4th-grade student at Memorial Elementary.  I have picked out my outfit, sharpened my pencil, and picked out my snack choice in eager anticipation of “being more dog” and going out to carpe diem.
Who else is willing to take on this challenge?

The Visible Learning Effects of Formative Assessment and Feedback

The first time I saw the above picture, it really clicked for me.  It was a long time ago, but it was an “aha” moment of sorts for me regarding the differences between formative and summative assessments.  Looking back, I used to group all of my assessments into one category in my mind….assessments I used to grade my students and they all were essentially summative in nature.   At that time, in the beginning of my teaching career, no one had truly explained the difference, as well as the true impact on student achievement and learning that  formative assessments coupled with specific feedback can have.  If you look at the soup in the above picture as a metaphor for student learning outcomes, that soup is going to taste a lot better if you check it along the way and make adjustments as needed.  Every spice you add….is a piece of descriptive feedback to students…and if you give the right amount and the right kind, the end product is a masterpiece.
Formative Assessment:  Visible Learning Effects
The purposes of formative assessments are to guide the teacher on where to take instruction next. They are checkpoints that teachers put in place to make sure their students are still on the path to the ultimate destination of learning.  While for many years, we knew that formative assessments were key to helping students reach learning targets, it wasn’t until John Hattie, synthesized over 15 years of over 800 meta-analyses on the influences on the achievement of students, that we realized the significance of formative assessment.  In fact, providing formative assessments of learning was the most effective strategy for increasing student achievement, above all other strategies.  As shown below, other related strategies to formative assessment include feedback (.73); metacognitive strategies, which are often used in formative assessments (.71), and self-verbalization, seen in self-assessment strategies (.64).  Formative assessment and feedback really work!

Formative Assessment Strategies
There are endless examples of formative assessment strategies that can be used in the classroom. Total Participation Techniques is one of my favorite books that give examples about formative assessments and engagement activities.

For more examples please check out the following resources:

Feedback:  It’s a marriage between formative assessment and feedback.
Formative assessments are only effective if they are then used to guide instruction and learning.  As noted in Chappuis and Chappuis’ (2007) article The Best Value in Formative Assessment in Educational Leadership:

“Feedback in an assessment for learning context occurs while there is still time to take action.  It functions as a global positioning system, offering descriptive information about the work, product, or performance relative to the intended learning goals.  It avoids marks or comments that judge the level of achievement or imply that the learning journey is over.  

Effective descriptive feedback focuses on the intended learning, identifies specific strengths, points to areas needing improvement, suggests a route of action students can take to close the gap between where they are now and where they need to be, takes into account the amount of corrective feedback the learner can act on at one time, and models the kind of thinking students will engage in when they self-assess.”

Moving Past “Good Job!” or “Write Neat”

In previous blog posts, I have brought up some stories about my two boys and I do so because seeing school up close through the eyes of my boys has really provided me insight into areas of education that I had not seen before.  One area is in the impact of feedback, and how a small change can make a big difference.

Example #1:  My son Connor has been tackling 4th-grade math this year and for those of you who haven’t seen your children make a shift from 3rd to 4th-grade math problems, it can be a big shift. Connor has seemed to make the adjustment pretty well in understanding the various strategies, but in a lot of his work coming home, he had a number of problems marked wrong.  When I talked to him to try to figure out what was wrong, we couldn’t figure out why he was getting them marked wrong, but then I realized all of the math was right, but the teacher couldn’t read it clear enough to see that it was the right answer.   His commas looked like ones.  His 6’s looked like zeroes.  With a combination of specific from the teacher and myself….he now understands where to fix the mistakes and how to improve.  Last week….all correct and a “Woo hoo!” comment from the teacher.  Descriptive feedback explained to him made all the difference.

Example #2:  My son Liam is in 2nd grade and of all of the members of our household, he by far has the neatest handwriting of us all.  (Thank goodness for computers for the rest of us!)  So when he started to get his work coming home with all of the content correct, but a big statement across the top that said “BE NEAT!” we decided to have a conversation with him to figure out what he needed to fix.  When I asked him if he knew why it said “be neat” on many of his papers and what he thought he needed to fix, he replied, “I don’t know. It looks pretty neat to me, don’t you think?” I asked him to ask his teacher about it and we came to find out that he wasn’t forming some of his letters correctly, such as his As.  So there you have it….a minor example, but now he knows what he needs to work on to improve. He understands the learning target and how to get there.

Feedback:  7 Things to Remember


The Power of Yet

In a previous post I wrote about my boys and how we are trying to identify a fixed mindset when we see it and work towards building a growth mindset.  As part of that process, we have begun to explore the “Power of Yet.”  A three letter word….but it can be so powerful.

My son, who has been struggling with spelling, said yesterday…”I just can’t spell. I’m not good at it.”

INSERT LEARNING OPPORTUNITY HERE




We used that moment as a learning opportunity about the “Power of Yet” just like you can do with your students every day within your classrooms.  We talked about other areas where it took time to learn skills such as tying his shoe, riding a bicycle, hitting a baseball, or learning to read, but eventually with practice, he was able to learn how to do all of those things and more.

Check out this great video below “You Can Learn Anything” and think about how sharing this with students can give them a perspective that they can learn anything.  Think about how powerful it would be for our students to come to school each day with the inspiration and motivation that they can learn anything because they have developed what the author of this Edutopia blog called a developed “yet sensibility” in their daily beliefs and practices.  Think about whether you have developed the “yet sensibility.”

Or have your students watch the following Sesame Street Song “The Power of Yet” and have them brainstorm times they have struggled to learn something, but eventually were able to.

You could take some time in your class to have students identify what they can do and the things that they can’t do YET and want to learn or work towards as seen within our own district.



Finally, check out Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk on the power of students believing they can improve and ask yourself as she does “What are we doing to build the bridge to yet?”






Carol Dweck talks about a story of  school who instead of marking “F or failure” for a grade…they put “Not Yet.”


https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve.html