Monday, March 11, 2013

Change is hard

Change is hard.  This well known maxim is used in meetings across the world to help make people feel comfortable with the inevitable shifting sands.  And yet, regardless of how may times we say doesn't seem to make change any easier.  The moment the C word comes out of someone's mouth, people in the room tense up and get ready for battle.  I'm sure this is true in any walk of life, but it is especially true in education, a profession that is probably 20 years behind in growth and...well...change.  Unlike business, that have to face the absurdities of people and fads everyday, education has been allowed to sit pristine and separated from society.  This is, however, rapidly changing.  School reform is here to stay.  Data, student results, and teacher evaluations, ideas that once rang out only from the ivory towers are now discussed in staff rooms and they are not leaving.  Unions and teacher leaders are growing to accept that it isn't the amount of time a teacher puts in, or the amount of experience a teacher has, but the amount of effect a teacher has that makes a difference.  School law, leadership philosophy, and evaluation systems are all changing.

Where then is the teacher?  Some are out leading the charge against testing, strict evaluation systems, and professional accountability, some are hiding in their classrooms, and some are searching to embrace new techniques and feedback systems that will be the norm in next 20 years.  As a teacher, I often wonder where my best time is spent.  There are parts of me that agree with all sides of the argument.  However, in the end, I realize each day that this change is here to stay.  I can jump on board or start swimming....but it is here.

Therefore, what will I build?  How will I integrate new ideas into my old philosophies?  How will I help struggling leaders find their voice and motivate and inspire the necessary change we need in classrooms to help our students?

I refuse to sit around the lunch table, thinking about the times 30 years ago and regretting where we are.  It is the students that matter.  They are more important than our beliefs and methods.  Their future is the only thing we should be concerned with.  Change is hard.  But only the things that are hard are worth doing and students are worth it.

Monday, March 4, 2013


What is a grade? What does it mean about the student? Are they having problems understanding the work? Are they having problems doing the work? Are they having problems communicating? Are they having problems behaving?

I am starting a new adventure moving forward with a modified version of standards based grading.  Along the way, I've read some great books and gotten a variety of ideas.  However, the key questions are still there.  What is a grade?

My personal goals for a grade are that it represents both the student's achievement as well as their growth in content understanding.  While compliance, behavior, and work ethic are important pieces of success, they are not what I want to show at the end of the day.  I want to be able to measure and show growth and achievement.

As a parent and a teacher, these are the questions I will consider when building this new system.
1.  Does it matter how many times a student tries and fails before they try and succeed?
2. How do I mathematically document growth?
3.  How much information is useful for parents?
4.  How much information is useful for students?
5. How should practice factor into the grade?
6. How should behavior and participation factor into the grade?
7. If a student is failing, not because of zeros, but because of understanding, what does that mean instructionally?
8. How can I practically manage standards tracking?
9.  What are the important skills I want to track?
10.  How will this grade shape parent/teacher/student communication?

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Today we worked on digging into the new standards using concepta rather than content. It is an exciting change in thinking that will hopefully lead to greater student learning.
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Sunday, August 14, 2011


In the past I have been ...ummm....sub par at running meetings. Inevitably this leads to problems. I want to be better. I need to be better. This year I'm going to use some resources like
and maybe some reflection surveys to improve my practice. When I think about success, I envision an environment where we work efficiently and effectively and excitably. I want everyone to feel valued and successful. And most of all, I want us to feel that we are on the right track together.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Professional development

It is the beginning of the school year. All the teachers crowd into the library to have a series of professional developments. I've been teaching for 15 years and the PD I've seen has hit the spectrum from useless to completely transformative. Useless PD makes me angry and frustrated. It seems to indicate that not only do the presenters not care about me or know me, but they don't value my work either. Transformative PD makes me feel energized, loved, valued, and excited. I bound into my classroom feeling positive about my abilities to help students.

Now, I am the planner and presenter. As I start inhabiting my new role in the school, here are some of my thoughts about professional development that I want to stay focused on.

1) Show don't tell. This sounds so simple. If you want teachers to use word walls this year, then do word walls in your PD. If you want them to use the framework of Gradual Release, then set up your instruction to be gradually released. Too often teachers sit and get because while this is the least effective way to impact educators, it is the quickest way to "check off" learning.

2) Most teachers are verbal processors. They need to talk about the new ideas and most importantly talk about how THEY will use them. However, oftentimes, presenters will leave too much time and teachers will get off task. Last week I learned this technique about listening to the pauses in the overall conversation level. Let the first pause go by and jump in when you hear the second one. This ensures that while teachers do have time to process and think, they stay focused on the material.

3) Follow through. There was nothing I hated worse then PD that was forgotten when it was over. By continuing the learning through conversations, emails, and other learning activities, you signal to teachers that the work is valued and important.

4) Structuring comments and questions. So often great learning is derailed by questioning. When presenters find a way for teachers to question and comment, without getting caught up in individual concerns, they value the staff and the learning. Some ways to do this might include parking lots or back channels on a website.

5) Importance and Choice- While some PD IS important for the whole staff to participate in, many PD options should be left to teacher choice based on their needs and interests. This is also a great way to exhibit what differentiation looks like in the classroom.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reflecting map

The reflecting map helps guide coaches in having conversations with teachers to reflect on past events and learn from them. Many teachers do not take the time to reflect on either good or bad events, however, reflecting leads to autonomous thinking and better future capabilities. By leading the teacher through his/her thinking, the coach helps the teacher process and analyze the event as well as develop new understandings. It is important for the coach to concentrate on the teacher and not focus on getting new learnings for themselves!

Planning map

The planning map is a conversation template used in cognitive coaching to help a person move forward in a direction of their choosing. Coaches should use pausing and paraphrasing tools to help to validate and clarify the thinker's ideas. It is important to understand that the purpose of coaching is to take a valued person where they want to go. The focus is on the thinker and not the coach. The coach should be careful to be present, listen, and avoid negative behaviors like using autobiography or breaking raport.