Monday, October 22, 2018
As my students finished their midterm assessments today, they were very nervous about their grades. The assessments measure standards, there is no studying involved, just daily work towards mastery of standards and application on the assessment.
The stress levels of my students were through the roof. As these are midterm assessments, they do not count much as a grade, but my students were stressed non-the-less. In fact, I am most concerned with growth since the pre-assessment. The growth was through the roof.
That is not what my students were looking for. That is not what their parents are looking for. We are so married to the idea of grades that we miss the bigger picture...growth.
I have to admit, this is a newer idea for me and I have had much more time than my students and their parents to digest these changes of mindset and focus. I want my students to understand but their preconceived notion of the value of grades being the end all, be all...is literally making my students sick.
I have a new mission. I need to create something that conveys the real meaning, new meaning of grades to my students and their parents. I need them all the see the value of growth and how we all begin in a place, then we grow towards mastery, then we meet a set point to decide if we are proficient.
If this was a student learning to play a musical instrument and at 9-weeks, my students were to be given a grade based on how they are playing and their mastery...would they expect an A? They are at a beginning stage and working towards mastery. By the end of the year, they should be at a place where one year of work should be considered as proficient. At that point, the grade makes sense based on the mastery to this point.
This shift is rough. I want to help my students to see that...They are on their way...not arriving each time that we take an assessment.
I need to be intentional and most of all, patient.
Sunday, October 21, 2018
I have decided, since day one this school year, to revise my teaching and lesson focus more than ever before. Never have I made such a drastic change to my style and approach to teaching. I have never been standard forward before. Instead, I have been connections to text, interest level, and engagement forward where the standards crept in from the sides. I have had immense success when it comes to growth and data doing things as I always have, but...
This year I have a new PLC and a somewhat standards heavy coach.
This left me a few options. 1. I can keep doing me and have a rift between me and the PLC. 2. I can try to create some sort of hybrid that would be lots of work until I realized what their expectations were. Or... 3. Move completely out of my comfort zone, take a risk with growth and data, and dive into the philosophies of these two people that are so standards driven.
I chose 3. I chose to dive in and see where it takes me and my students. I made my mind up to intentionally watch the reactions of my students and be even more reflective about my own practices. Nine weeks in, one would think that I would know if I made the right decision. I wish. I am seeing my choice as different successes and failures as the days progress.
Somedays, I go home and wonder if it is time to scrap it all and go back to my comfort zone. I quickly dismiss this as my comfort zone is probably too comfortable. As I reflect, I think the issues that I am noticing are coming from a lack of flow. With comfort, comes flow. It is more natural and happens with changes in the moment. When we are in unchartered waters, we are not used to the cause and effects of changes, so we stay the course...even if the course causes frustration and trouble for us and our students.
My so called temporary solution?
I am not ready to give up learning and growing from this new format and thinking. New moves growth, old stagnates and smells. I am willing to deal with the frustrations for another nine weeks in the case and hope, that there will become a level of comfort to it all.
Reflection is always great. But sometimes, reflection shows us our fears.
Saturday, October 20, 2018
I went to a YA Lit fest today. 30 YA Lit authors! It was pretty cool hearing about their writing processes, the successes and missteps. The audience was full and the day was full of books, reading, and writing.
One thing was easy to feel throughout the day...
Books come from and create emotions. They mirror and door life and all it has to offer. Books are often a call to action. In today's climate, social and political, it is clear that these books are very necessary for our kids, and for us...their teachers.
The day ended with a favorite. Neal Shusterman, the author that I have seen talk more than any others, ended the day with an interview of Neal by Becky Anderson of Anderson's Booksellers. The topic, for the most part was Neal's new book.
I have not been able to get this book, or the story that it represents and tells off of my mind. It is about drought. It is about water. It is about what will happen when California, and ultimately, the entire country runs out of water. It exposes the politics and corruption in the delivery of water to our homes in the US. It is scary and...an eventual reality. It is more a reality as we are seemingly losing regulations and loosening restrictions that promise future generations the resources that my generation has taken for granted.
Books are powerful. This book should create a movement with our younger generation. That is what books can do...even save the planet.
It was a day well spent.
Friday, October 19, 2018
After almost 20 years of teaching, I still continue to forget what happens as October becomes November.
I am typically a positive person, especially in my posts...but this one is a reminder to myself and anyone else in education.
This time of year is rough. It is some of the roughest times to be a teacher. It is...sometimes...painful.
I think it is because the newness of the year is gone. There seem to be limited breaks. The pressures of testing is heavy on students and teachers alike. Teachers are having many observations and being evaluated. The students are truly noticing the weight of the expectations at this, the grade that they are finally settled in. Pushing for growth sometimes feels like walking up a cliff to the students and like beating a dead horse to the educators.
It is very much like being stuck in thick and deep mud.
But..we know if we persevere, the payoffs will be wonderful. We have to remind ourselves that there will be better days. We need to coach ourselves through the days, the minutes, the seconds...to get ourselves towards that light at the end of the tunnel.
Soon enough, and this has been proven to me each year that I experience this...the clouds will part, the rains or snow will stop, and the sun will shine alone with the attitudes and learning of our students.
We must hold on to the awareness of the why this happens to truly get through it. It is merely a phase in the cycle of a school year.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
I noticed that Parent Teacher Conferences are coming up in early November. I noticed that the link was getting ready to send to parents about a week ago. I love meeting with the parents of my students. My schedule usually fills up in the first 2-3 days of parent sign-up and I end up with about 30 extra sessions of email, face to face, or phone calls to make after the actual conferences. This makes for about 70 sessions out of the 167 students that I teach.
I decided to get a jump on things last week and started sending out 5-positive emails home each day. I expressed something personal about my students with respect to their personality, work ethic, and academic progress.
So...I am about 35 emails in and almost all parents that have received emails from me have replied with very positive and thoughtful responses. The part of their emails that makes me the happiest is that they often say that their students talk about what we are learning in class. They also talk about their student noting my teaching style and feeling very connected to me, the class, and the learning.
Communication as a teacher is so important. It is so easy to get bogged down with regular school work and forget the importance of partnership with our students' parents.
I am hopeful to reach out to all of my parents by mid-November.
What I have noticed as a fun consequence of my emails...students are reporting their parents talking about school to them more. They are hearing how proud they are of their students and having conversations about how much work school truly is today for our kids.
I am busy. Very busy. But somethings need to become a priority, if only for a few weeks...to make a difference where I can.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Today, we were lucky enough to have another author come to our school. We were visited by the wonderful SA Bodeen. She is the author of Compound, Tomb, and so many other great books!
The effects of having authors to our school who talk about writing books, their lives, the process... And then selling and signing the books for our middle school kids...
Books are being read.
Books are being taken from the library and teacher's libraries.
Books are being talked about.
Students are writing.
Students are talking about writing.
Students are going to the public library.
Students are going to the bookstores.
Students are cross recommending books to each other.
Teachers are buying books so students have them in their hand NOW!
Students are getting excited about reading and writing.
Books are back to being the culture of our school!
It feels and looks wonderful. I could not be more proud of our school and our students. Our librarian in an amazing feature in our school as she works so hard to get these incredible authors in front of our kids!
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
I got a phone call from a past student.
She told me that one of my 7th grade student's father had died the night before.
I sat and stared into space as I imagined my student going through this pain. The death of a parent is a lonely pain. I was lucky enough to be well into my adulthood when I found out how lonely this pain truly is. I had tons of loving people around me. The support was immense.
But the pain still sits within me. All alone.
For my student, I am at a loss of what I can do for her. Has this happened before...to my students? Yes. But for sure, this doesn't get easier and answers are no better than before.
This post is NOT for or about me. It is about this child. I want to do everything for this child. But this child doesn't even know what they want. Or need.
Our students come to school, expected to learn and behave. Many have so much trauma in their lives that they are lucky to get out of bed. We need to address the student and their needs first. We need to be there for our students. We need to let them know, if and when they are ready, that we are there for them.
Checking in. Being aware of the said and the unsaid. Just being there.