What ARE the Odds?

http://insightbyseymour.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/2635-101413-gs2635.jpgFor the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the upcoming PARCC. I’m speaking of the Next Generation Assessment known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. If you thought the Ohio Achievement Assessment was bad, then wait until you see THIS! I suggest, if you haven’t yet taken a look at this new online assessment, you should…and soon!

Over the last 5 years, educators across the nation have witnessed the development and implementation of the Common Core standards. In writing this piece, I found it important to research the who, when, and how the standards were developed before expressing my opinion about the PARCC. In a February 2014 article, Allie Bidwell of US News reported,

Although they only recently captured national attention, the Common Core standards – which lay out what students should know and be able to do by each grade – have been in the works since at least 2008. It all started with former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who was the 2006-07 chair of the National Governors Association and now leads the University of California system.

During her stint as governor, Napolitano desired to develop an initiative focused on strengthening the country’s competitive position in the global economy. As students’ performance in math and the sciences have become comparatively lower than their global peers, the goal of this new initiative was “to give governors the tools they need[ed] to improve math and science education, better align post-secondary education systems with state economies, and develop regional innovation strategies” (retrieved from http://www.nga.org on December 4,2014).  Therein, a task force of governors, CEOs, and university presidents was created. Think about that for just a moment. Does that elicit any emotions for you as it did for me?

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I remember hearing that the Common Core was essentially birthed from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 in that the standards were developed to hone in on the skills students needed to know and be able to do by the end of each grade level.  The standards were thick with specific skills all students were to master only, with NCLB, this varied from state to state as state leaders played more of a role in the development of their own standards. Unfortunately, the level of expectation varied significantly as well from state to state. States, like Massachusetts, were known for holding very high academic standards, while other states, like Tennessee, did not (Bidwell, US News, 2014), making it more difficult to comparatively determine whether scholars were making adequate growth compared to their global counterparts.

The Common Core differs in that the numbers of standards have been decreased for each grade level and the depth of each of those standards increased. That’s my subtle way of saying that the standards push our scholars harder to learn skills they are fundamentally and developmentally not yet prepared to learn, whether they are ready or not! Don’t get me wrong, I do see this as an incomprehensible issue. It’s clearly a problem, and yet I was not at all surprised to find that the challenge of developing equitable academic standards has been in existence since the desegregation of public schools in the 1960s. Students of minority ethnicity, lower socioeconomic status, born in poverty from parents struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads and food on the table, and some of them with nothing more than a middle school education was prevalent then and still exists today. Oh yes! You see, what I’ve just described for you was my current classroom and any educator teaching in an urban school district can relate to that very description.

Our scholars have been chasing their peers to close an achievement gap that was created to keep minorities out of public education and distanced far behind their white peers for years! And now, here we are with the Common Core standards, an initiative started to strengthen our competitive position in the global economy when neither our scholars, nor their families, are adequately equipped with the resources or skills to compete in the local economy!

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Let me be clear, I can appreciate the idea behind the Common Core. I get it. We want to develop critical thinkers, leaders, social changers! But then you add the PARCC to the equation. Oh my goodness! Consider this, the majority of my fifth grade scholars are reading at a fourth grade or below grade level right now. I even have a few reading at a second grade level! SECOND GRADE!! That’s their fluency and comprehension level. Did you catch that? The majority of my class is still behind 1-3 grade levels in reading. They struggle to develop a 5 sentence paragraph with a clear topic sentence and strong conclusion. They’ve been working to develop these skills since the second grade. When they are challenged to push themselves to a higher expectation, they shut down with frustration. Oh, I’m not finished yet. My scholars barely know their basic multiplication facts, even though they’ve been exposed to them two grades prior. Many still struggle with regrouping in subtraction and will argue to the end that 0-4 = 4 even when provided proof that it is impossible!

Finally, after losing our technology teachers about four years ago, teachers were tasked to teach not only keyboarding skills, but also researching skills in a computer lab which we were scheduled to use once, maybe twice a week for 30-45 minutes, if we were lucky. There were several times I’d taken my class in to complete assignments and it’d taken the first 20 minutes alone just to get through all the glitches we’d face trying to simply get logged in! Amazing! Well, the computer lab no longer exists after 6 years of existence. The district has begun transitioning to the use of chrome books. I share a cart with a coworker. Yes, share! We make it work. Our scholars are most knowledgeable about how to search for information because that interests them. However, they still lack in the area of research, note taking, and essay typing. It continues to be a struggle for them since it requires more thinking and effort. Not a very good place to be with PARCC right around the corner, wouldn’t you think?

Our scholars, while they’ve shown growth in reading and math, are continuing to chase the leaders of the achievement gap every single day they enter our urban school. This is based on data from the Ohio Achievement Assessment, a two and a half hour, paper-pencil, written assessment. The new PARCC will assess my scholars electronically and will take multiple days. They will be given multiple reading samples at a time with two part answers where one answer will depend on scholars’ knowledge of and response to the other. On this assessment, scholars performance levels will be scored in the areas of text complexity, range of accuracy, and quality of evidence. There are multiple choice questions, matching, and two part extended responses that will need to be typed, providing explicit evidence from the text provided. The questions are much more challenging since they are multi-step questions and very different from what they’ve been used to. Scholars must use, not only the text provided, but also answers from previous questions to construct their responses. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the sample PARCC, you should take some time to peruse the website. Here’s the link:

PARCC Practice Tests

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If I sound a bit anxious about this Next Generation Assessment, it’s because I am, along with many of my urban school educator friends. It feels a lot like my scholars are being set up to fail! Do you understand that the growth my scholars have made, any growth at all, will absolutely go unnoticed after taking this test! And YES…I take it personally! If they are not functionally or developmentally prepared to meet the Common Core standards then how could they possibly be prepared to take this Next Generation Assessment? Well, I don’t know either, but it kind of sounds like yet another way to keep our minority scholars at the bottom end of the achievement gap. All I know is that we need to get our scholars ready for this PARCC with the limited resources we are provided and hope that just one of them beats the odds, gets across that gap, and comes out on top! With everything we’ve been given, what do you think those odds are?

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Common Core or Common Quagmire?

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The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. (Retrieved from http://www.core standards.org)

Recently, I’ve been battling my feelings about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I feel like I have a good understanding of children’s learning styles and the importance of nurturing their young minds. By definition, the CCSS support this notion. So, what’s the problem? It was after a recent baseline math assessment that I really began to feel differently about this new national initiative. On a particular set of questions, points were not given if a student did not use an algorithmic strategy, even if their process derived the correct answer.  I was so annoyed by this and thought, is THIS how we are assessing CCSS? Are we really stifling students autonomous thinking for the sake of what state and national reformers believe is the best indicator of our children’s futures?

We, as educators, all know the intent of the CCSS is to delve deeper into students thinking. To go beyond surface level learning and extend students foundational knowledge. Learning should shift from the traditional, basal instruction curriculum, to one that is more rigorous and relevant in application. We are to provide a variety of strategies for students and encourage individuality in learning and thinking. At least, that’s what I’ve always thought until I began investigating the expectations of the Next Generation Assessments, such as those developed by the Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Careers. These assessments seem to be requiring students to display much more thinking than is seemingly necessary. One particular video stood out to me. Watch as a 3rd grade student proudly explains a math problem using a strategy from the TERC Investigations curriculum for solving an addition problem. She shows two ways to solve the problem, one way by stacking, the traditional standard algorithm using regrouping, and the other by using a written or visual method that is meant to display mathematical thinking. I’ve attached a link below (retrieved from Math Foundations, LLC, September 23, 2014):

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The unintended consequences of the TERC Investigations: http://youtu.be/1YLlX61o8fg

Quite a compelling outcome, wouldn’t you think? She began so confidently, and by the end looked so confused and disappointed as if she were tasked to solve some unearthing mathematical dilemma rather than a simple third grade addition problem. Is this really how we are expected to prepare our students for common core assessment? Or is this type of assessing progressively becoming more of a common quagmire for our students?

Here’s another example from an Arkansas mom who presents her reservations (and speaks for hundreds of other parents in the area as well) over the common core initiative to the Arkansas State Board of Education.

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Arkansas Mother Obliterates Common Core in 4 Minutes: http:// youtu.be/wZEGijN_8R0

Hmmphf! I wonder what that school board member thought after finding that her thinking did not align with the expectations of the CCSS? Why do we continuously subject our students to that which makes little to no sense? Our children think differently, understand differently, LEARN differently, but yet we force them to learn in a way dictated by people that hide behind degrees and acronyms and have more than likely never stepped foot in an urban school classroom! Now, I don’t know that for certain, but what I do know is that fulfilling a personal philanthropic obligation within a chosen urban school district does not make you an educational expert on best practices in instruction and assessment! I’m sorry, but it doesn’t!  As you can tell, it makes me a little frustrated.

Where does Ohio stand? In August 2014, state legislators began the process of eliminating Common Core education standards in Ohio which would mean students would go through their third set of standards over the course of the next four years. Under this new bill, students would keep the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts this year, without the testing that goes with it. Schools would then switch for two years to Massachusetts Common Core standards (adopted in 2010) prior to implementing new state-developed standards in those subjects plus science and social studies starting in the 2017-18 school year (retrieved from The Columbus Dispatch at http://www.dispatch.com on September 26, 2014). Are you kidding me?! The assessment may change again…already?? How is it that the state is unable to make a firm decision about the state assessment and yet our students are expected to perform proficiently on whichever assessment is decided upon? Granted, if educators are effectively teaching to the Common Core, the assessment shouldn’t matter, but the reality is that it does matter because the standards and the assessment are not developmentally sound.

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Honestly! This has gotten to be too much to think about! Are we really providing high-quality academic standards with the common core or are we setting our children up for failure and further holding them back with what seem to have become common quagmires? It’s something to think about, that’s for certain. As I continue to fight my internal battle between being for or against the Common Core initiative, I do what my passion leads me to do and work for those whose voices are never heard within the political realms of our educational reform, my students.

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Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

morning. What a surprise.

November 4, 2013…the day I published my introductory blog. It’s been 7 months since I decided this blog would be the way I would impact social change in education. Eight months after I successfully defended my doctoral study and 6 months after I was conferred my degree in Teacher Leadership, I wrote that very first blog. Contrary to what some may believe, a principal or superintendent is not the dream I pursue. Instead, I would rather find a position working in curriculum/professional development in which I could work with teachers in and out of the classroom or in a higher education setting teaching pre-service teachers. However, that is currently a dream deferred and I am okay with that because I have since been led in another direction. I have prayed for direction. I have prayed for God to order my steps.

Allow me to take you back to the months preceding the inception of this blog. At the beginning of the school year, I was very much out of sorts. After finishing my degree, I was confident that I would receive the position I desired whether it be in my current district or an outside district. I had applied and interviewed for many positions. Rejection is ALWAYS difficult to deal with, but the one that was most upsetting for me was the one I received from the very district that helped me complete my doctoral degree. When I received the news that someone else had received the position, I was crushed! Not because of who was chosen, but because of who wasn’t! What in the world?! I knew there must be something else for me to accomplish in the classroom, but I certainly didn’t like this fate set before me. As a result, I started the year filled with anger and resentment. I wanted no parts of anyone or anything! Everyone felt the disdain expelling from the air around me. My grade level team especially. Very unfair, I know, but I didn’t know how else to deal at the time. Somehow, I had to find a way to release and regroup. So, in an effort to keep myself immersed in leadership roles, I chose to fill my plate with leadership opportunities. I thought it was a good idea at the time. Yeah…it didn’t quite play out the way I envisioned. Not at all.

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It probably took me until early October to end my itty-bitty pity party. I was helping my sister in law develop a blog for her early education class when it hit me like a ton of bricks! That’s it!! It was at that moment that I decided I could do what made me happy whether I was in a desirable position or not. It was at that very moment that my blog was created. Shortly after that, in December, I made the decision to work towards starting my own business and in January, 2014 with the support and encouragement of my husband, my family, and some great friends, the foundation was laid to establish Transitions Educational Consulting, LLC, dedicated to providing professional development for all educators by focusing on current issues in education and school improvement. Maybe this was what I was intended to do. The problem would lie in the fact that developing the business would be especially difficult while working in a classroom. None the less, there had to be a reason that I was still in the classroom and developing a business at the same time. God has a plan, right? So, I continued with my plans and took on several leadership roles in an effort to continue obtaining as much leadership experience as I could. In return, I would share my many experiences (highs and lows), my lessons, and my reflections with other educators across the nation! At the risk of exposing my imperfections, flaws, successes, and/or celebrations, I became transparent in that moment, in every conceivable way, in order to help other educators, like myself, grow. I have to say, this blog has been the major high point of my school year. I enjoy sharing with you all, learning from and engaging with so many of you about our profession. It is what has kept me going.

In an effort to further grow my leadership skills (probably more so to sooth my aching ego), I volunteered to sit on the Building Leadership Team, the District Leadership Team, to lead the Climate Committee and to be a Resident Educator Mentor for two first year teachers! Yeah, I pretty much took the plunge! In hindsight, I’m not sure what I was trying to prove or better yet, whom I was trying to prove it to, but this is the road I chose to travel. With my plate filled to capacity, it ultimately became more than I could handle. As with any full plate, some things receive more time and attention than others do and some things simply get left behind. But, I chose to do all of this, so I had to continue to try to manage it all. The one thing that I claim as my passion, educating and developing effective teachers, became my greatest let down of the year! Of course I am my biggest critic, but it is what it is. I found that, while working with teachers is exactly what I intend to do with my future, it turned out that it was not my current focus. It’s difficult to explain or even understand how that could be. I just knew that I had to release something, and soon! Next school year, something has to change in order for me to continue to reach other educators.

The year has been filled with vicissitudes, as is every year. I’ve made great strides and I’ve endured some intense disappointments. I’ve been told I was unsupportive on the low end and awe inspiring on the high end. I’ve heard that I take things personally and am sensitive, but also have been acknowledged for my strength, courage, and reflective insight. I have even been told that the completion of my doctoral degree would elicit appreciation from some while others would do their best to depreciate it! I have let a few down, but have lifted and motivated SO MANY more! This year, there have been a whirlwind of emotions and changes! All of which, I might add, have made me MUCH stronger and wiser.

As with everything, I have learned a few things along the way. I cannot even begin to share the number of applications I have submitted, the number of interviews, and the number of rejections I’ve received. I know there have been many, MANY jobs. JOBS! Let me pin this here for clarification purposes. A job is a noun, a thing. In particular, a job is defined by the qualifications someone else determines and is subject to change based on someone else’s needs at that time. Let me be clear in saying that this is my perception, my personal reflection, my personal experience with…jobs. A job may or may not align with one’s long-term goals or passion, especially on paper, but because other people determine what “the job” is, there seems no certainty that one will ever truly be a good fit for “the job”. What a profound realization that is.

I have learned that even though I have made mistakes, I am not lacking in knowledge, value, or worth. It amazes me that once you receive a doctoral degree, some expect you to be omniscient in knowledge. When, in actuality, it is my opinion that this degree has made me more willing and open to learning even more than ever before. A doctoral degree is not the cake topper of education. On the contrary, it uncovers an unyielding need to explore the depths of all there is still to learn. Knowing this, I will not allow anyone or anything devalue my worth or my degree another day! No way!

Lastly, I acknowledge that change is ALWAYS occurring and I know that change is difficult. It seems that this year has been filled to the brim with change! I have learned so much about myself as a person and as a professional. I know that I will no longer allow “jobs” to define my future. I have committed to continuing to create my own opportunities through Transitions! It may take longer than I anticipated, but I am pressing on. I AM the creator of my future! I will make adjustments where necessary and changes when needed as I continue on the path that God has set for me. I have come to realize with each new understanding, each opportunity, and every new day…nothing changes, if nothing changes.

 

Be Attentive, Be Supportive

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In the now 14 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve never been told I was unsupportive and unavailable…that is…until this week. OUCH!!! It hurt me to the core! But, being the reflective person that I am, I had to take what I was given and respond to it. I had already been thinking that I’d dropped the ball; that I didn’t do everything I could have or SHOULD have, but I still found comfort in the fact that I had NEVER heard those words spoken to describe ME…until this week.

I am a leader in my school and in my district, I serve on several committees (all voluntarily), I am the identified grade level chair for my team, and I am a resident educator mentor. Quite a bit to handle in a year, but I thought I could handle it all. In fact, I needed every single one of those things to continue to build my leadership skills and in doing so; I probably neglected the most important responsibility of the year, the development of another educator. The exact place that holds my inner most passion at this particular moment in my life, I have fallen short. I came to the sudden realization that I may have taken on too much. I bit off more than I could chew. My plate is full. My cup runneth over! Well, you get the point. Nonetheless, I’ve been given this bit of information and now I need to do something with it!

I am not sure really, where this suddenly came from, but it didn’t matter at this point. All I knew was that I had to respond to it. It’s apparent that none of us is perfect. We wouldn’t be human if we were, right? But, I honestly believe that a sign of a great educator is to acknowledge his or her shortcomings when presented with them and then doing whatever is necessary to change them. When someone else points out a flaw in your leadership and/or your practice, if education is your true passion, it behooves you to correct that flaw. Assess yourself. What have you done well? What needs personal and/or professional attention? Did you contribute enough? Did you contribute too much? Did you ask enough questions? Did you ask questions at all? What will you do differently next time? In answering these many questions, maybe you will find that it means looking at your list of responsibilities and re-prioritizing them. Maybe it means clearing your plate. Maybe it means searching out professional development opportunities. Or, maybe it simply means being attentive and supportive…for someone else other than yourself.

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That’s INSANE!!

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By now, you have gotten to know your students pretty well. You know when they are sick, when they are happy or sad, when they have mastered a skill, and certainly, when they are struggling. By now, you should know their areas of strength and their areas of weakness. You are also probably looking at your own instruction and comparing the predicted success of this year’s class with that of your last year’s class. Ok, well…maybe that’s just me, but it seems to never fail. I always seem to compare my current practice and outcomes with past practice and outcomes.

You may be looking at this side-eyed, thinking this isn’t you at all. You might be thinking that there is no need to compare because you are doing what you have always done and, well…that is precisely my point. I know you have heard the saying, “you need to work smarter, not harder” at some point during your training. Don’t you remember the half-day teacher in-service you attended to help you put together your instructional strategy “tool box”? Or the professional development suggesting that you refrain from “reinventing the wheel” because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” I have heard them more often than not! I have always interpreted these phrases to mean, do nothing more and do nothing less. Use what you already have and don’t tarry too long on any one skill.  How incredibly insane is that thinking?

For the life of me, I cannot see how any of that makes any sense. I’d like to think it was the many opportunities I had to obtain an array of practical, constructivist approaches and experiences that helped me to realize how truly insane those phrases were. In the end, I learned that there is no growth, personal or professional, in this complacent way of thinking.  Every year, we receive a new group of students. They look different. They act different. They learn and process differently. Yet, we reach into our bag of “tricks” and teach these different students the SAME WAY we always do, expecting different learning outcomes. This IS the definition of insanity as defined by Albert Einstein. If our students continuously change, why wouldn’t we change our instructional practices right along with them? We think it is because using what we already have and what we already know makes what we do easier, don’t we? But, how easy is this really?

When I think about “easy” and not “reinventing the wheel”, two skills come to mind that my students seem to struggle with every year and the tools I use every year to address them. The first skill that comes to mind is making an inference. When practicing inference, I have always used a set of inference cards I obtained from my time working in my previous district. The cards provide a short scenario and then a few guiding questions which allow students to infer (guess or draw a conclusion) what the scenario is really about. For example, a card may describe a scenario similar to the following:

Three brothers lived in the same town not far from each other, each with their own residence. They each built their own homes, but they each had different tastes in design and only one built his home with the best of the best materials. The brothers worked hard every day to outsmart the town bully who would never leave them alone. The bully always followed them around trying to ransack their homes.

Now, you may recognize this short piece as a rendition of the fairy tale, “Three Little Pigs”, but I found out quite quickly that when students have not been exposed to these early literature pieces (and there are many that have not…you would be surprised!), my inference cards are no longer useful. Yet and still, these cards make the list of activities to do every year! Why is that? If kids are unfamiliar with the literature and the cards bring confusion, why do they continue to make the list? That’s insane, right? Using the same strategy, with a different group of students; using the same instruction, with different learning styles and experiences; expecting a different outcome from the lesson when it is clear that following through with the lesson in this manner does nothing but further cloud students’ understanding. It is, by all appearances, a never-ending and all too familiar cycle.

The second skill that comes to mind is teaching fractions. During this unit, I generally have each of my students color and cut out fraction bars to use as a resource. I use them to teach equivalency and comparing fractions. It has proven to be an excellent resource for students to have. Well, that is…when students cut them out accurately and are able to keep up with them in their desks. Yet, every year, I have those few students who lose their fraction bars or cut them out inaccurately. And, every year, this fraction bar activity makes the list of things to do for the fraction unit. Even though it causes me unnecessary stress and tends to be more of a waste of time, I continue to use this activity thinking it will be better this time around. When really, it is just…insane!!

Here is another example of insanity. Every year, prior to state testing, teachers in the testing grades practiced test-taking strategies by teaching to the test. It is, again, what we have always done. Many of you have probably done something similar. For my school though, lack of supplemental funding to pay teachers stifled any hope of an after school program. Therefore, it was necessary to use the time provided during school in an attempt to close the achievement gap that inherently existed in our school. The teachers practiced with their individual classes and the principal practiced with entire grade levels. Now, don’t get me wrong, this strategy has been successful in the past, but more recently, not so much. Even with the effort we put towards preparing our students for the state assessment, our scores have not met adequate yearly progress and as a result, we have been at the “Academic Watch” designation level for years. Placed on a school improvement plan, the approach to close our achievement gap has not deviated very far from what has typically been done, until this current school year. Year after year, state assessment practice and preparation has looked the same…teaching to the test. Well, it turns out that this process, for us…drove us insane! We were doing the same thing, every year, but still were not able to get ourselves out of Academic Watch! Have we made some progress? Well, yes, I acknowledge that we have. But, not enough to be recognized by the state, let alone our own district.

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So, how do you avoid going insane? You commit to making a conscious change. We often complain that change is so difficult, but I submit to you that this is only the case when we are not committed to the change. When you get tired of wearing your hair a certain way, you change it and wear it differently. When you get tired of eating hamburgers, you eat something different. When you get tired of watching television, you turn it off and do something different! When your workout becomes too normal and monotonous, you change it up and do something different! When it is something that matters to you, you change for your own benefit. We have committed ourselves to the lives of children and to the field of education. When we took those classes, completed our student teaching, and passed that test, we vowed that educating children was our passion. Why, then, have we fallen prey to the stagnated mindset of “why reinvent the wheel”? Metaphorically speaking, we “reinvent the wheel” in order to acknowledge and accept students’ differences and to meet them where they are when they come to us. Therefore, we are essentially making changes in order to refine our wheel, making it better and more suitable for our current needs, rather than reinventing it.

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The fact of the matter is, the state of education is constantly changing. We see this with the transition from state benchmarks and indicators to the new Common Core State Standards Initiative. We see this in the shift from the two-year field experience/student teaching of old to the 3-year Resident Educator and Mentoring program requirements of new. Even the teacher evaluation process has changed. There are always changes. Difficult or not, we have chosen this field of education and committed to educating all children. So let us get recommitted. Let us take a closer look at our “tool boxes”. Are the contents of your box providing rigorous learning opportunities for ALL students? Is it really preparing our students for college? Are the skills meaningful and necessary for life? If the answer is no, then it is our job to change what we are doing! Change your instruction. Change your approach. Educators…commit to a change. Anything else is simply INSANE!

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Keep It Movin!!!

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Conferences never cease to amaze me.  Typically, we spend two nights a year meeting with parents to discuss plans for the year, student behavior, and student progress.  The conversation generally starts with a highlight of the student’s grades and their academic performance.  I work hard to keep things as positive as possible, unless there is an imperative need to discuss the negative in more detail.  Most of the time, parents whose student requires a greater focus on negative behavior never show up anyway, which I still struggle to understand.  The only thing I can determine is that these parents just don’t want to hear one more negative thing about their child. As a parent, I guess I understand that. As an educator, I want to work with parents to make positive changes in their child’s life.

As I contemplate on that, I think about my Victor. You may remember Victor from a previous blog post. I spoke to him about changing his behavior to demonstrate the greatness inside of him rather than the behavior his friends and even some adults expected of him.  I talked with him about being confident with regard to his academic ability as well as his leadership ability.  I assured him that it was okay to be a positive role model rather than a negative one and that in doing so; he could be just as popular.  Well, Victor has made great strides since that conversation in December.  Don’t get me wrong, he still has some work to do, but what is certain is that he needs someone to continuously remind him of his greatness and to keep it movin after every accomplishment he makes, otherwise, he will lose sight of his objective. Therefore, when Victor is off task or pulled in the opposite direction of his greater ability, all I have to do is say, “Greatness”, and he responds appropriately.  Since our conversation prior to winter break, Victor remains on task during instruction most of the time.  I rarely see any pouting when he is working in class and he even completed his winter break homework.  He has not been sent to the office for disruptive behavior and has even joined the school’s Safety Patrol program.  His potential is more than apparent but my hope for him is to just remember that he has to keep pushing.  He has to…keep it movin!

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More recently during conferences, I met with a father who, first, was not required to conference for his child, and second, had not confirmed a time to conference for his child, so I wasn’t expecting him.  Murray’s father, who speaks limited English, came to see me simply to check on his son’s academic and behavioral progress.  Murray is far from the typical description of a “behavior problem”. In fact, he has made the Merit Roll this quarter and has become very detailed in his work. He does however enjoy socializing quite a bit, which does become a distraction to his learning.  For the most part, though, Murray is right on track. His father expresses how proud he is of his boy, then looks at me and tells me that he always tells his son that he can be whatever he wants to be and that he wants him to do better than he did himself. Of course he does.  It’s what every parent wants for their child, right?

Murray has three other siblings, two older and one younger. They are all performing at or above grade level academically, so father is extremely proud, as he should be.  Murray is listening to his father proudly and intently.  I look at him and confirm that we are all so very proud of his accomplishments this quarter, but explained that he still has work to do.  Even though he has worked hard to earn these grades, I explained, “You have to keep it movin!” It’s at this time I ask Murray to recite a couple of lines from our Scholar Statement. I ask, “With hard work, you can do what?” “Anything.”, he responds. “With hard work, you can be what?” “Anything.”, he responds. “And who is in control of your future?” I ask.  He responds, “I am!”  I add that it is not too early to begin thinking of his future and that he cannot get comfortable with the success he has made this quarter.  I tell him he has to keep it movin. I maintain that he has to continue working hard to make the grade, so, “You have to keep it movin!” I tell him. His dad nodded in agreement and appreciation for the reiteration as our conference ended.

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What is ironic about this entire conversation is that my pastor had just spoken on the topic of “keeping it movin” in that past Sunday’s sermon. He explained that attaining success in anything does not stop once you reach a set goal.  Once you reach your goal, you keep it movin and set a new goal!  How profound is that? You see, in the past, “keep it movin” meant, go away, get a life, get to steppin’, and leave me alone! But, now, in a more positive connotation, these few words could have powerful implications on us as educators as well as on our students. This phrase has helped me to define perseverance for my students in a different way. In a way they seem to better understand!

As educators, we face many challenges. We are charged with the task of determining the academic needs of anywhere between 20-30 students. We assess each one, individually or as a group, frequently, at their individual level, at many times throughout the year.  We assess and monitor our students in a variety of methods in order to predict their possible success on the state assessment.  Sometimes, the things we do work.  Sometimes they don’t.  The fact of the matter is, however, that regardless of the outcome, it is at that point that we make the conscious decision whether to keep it movin or not, when in reality, there should be no decision to make. As they say, it is what it is. When our students master a skill, keep it movin and challenge them to master the next.  Even when they don’t master the skill, we need not give up on their ability to succeed, nor should we focus on what may appear, at that particular time, to be our inability to reach our students. Instead, we need to keep it movin! Remain focused on our purpose. Remember the commitment we made to children the moment we decided to become educators. Check your approach, change your instruction, and keep it movin! Students inability to master a skill does not indicate an unwillingness to learn, but rather necessitates a different way of teaching in order for them to receive it, process it, and finally, to master it.  It is an opportunity to define our instruction and make it better. So, instead of giving up, keep it movin! When students master skills beyond their ability, it does not mean your job is complete. What it does mean, is that you have more work to do! So, keep it movin! It’s our duty and obligation to push our students beyond their seemingly confined limits. It is our job as educators to determine just how far we can push. Therefore, you have to keep it movin!

Listen, no matter the level of success, no matter how big or small their dream, we have to help our students see that even when they reach one goal, another goal is waiting in the ranks. Once you acquire one accomplishment, keep it movin…on to the next one! In like fashion, we as educators need to model how to set goals and persevere through barriers in order to reach them.  We need to show our students what can happen when they keep it movin.  So, get out there and get busy.  There is no time to waste. There is still much work to be done. So, go ahead! What are you waiting for? Keep it movin!!

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Chalkboard Reflection vs. Smart Board Reflection

Happy New Year . . . to you!

Happy New Year! Out with the old, in with the new! Right? I imagine many of you have made some sort of resolution(s) or set some goal(s) for the year 2014 whether it is to increase your physical, mental, or spiritual health, or some other personal/professional goal. I, too, have identified a couple of areas of focus for the New Year.  I am hesitant to refer to these as resolutions due to the typical inability to sustain them.  I’ve found, in my mature age, that my goals haven’t changed much, so I just need some simple modifications, a new approach, or a change in my instructional processes/strategies perhaps. Whatever the case, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on 2013 and all that I have accomplished, all that has disappointed me, and all that is still yet to be done in order to determine my next step(s).

It has been an interesting year to say the least. As I scrolled through the many resolutions of friends, family, and associates on one social media site, I came across a post that really spoke to my spirit.  A wise friend of mine wrote encouragingly and metaphorically, of a focus on spiritual growth moving into the New Year.  My interpretation of his writing suggested, learning from decisions and choices made over the last year, then releasing them while making conscious decisions not to repeat anything that had a negative impact on ones spirit or prevented one from moving forward in any aspect of their life. I found this statement to be profound, to say the least, and it has resonated with me since the conversation occurred.  My response was that I agreed with his prolific statement and committed to reflect, release, and renew going into the New Year.

At that moment, another friend of ours, whom I have grown to respect a great deal over the last few years, chimed in with a question that read in part reflect? For what?”  My initial thought was, depending on the focus of your reflection, it could potentially yield beneficial rewards.  As we continued in our gentle opposition with one another, he wrote something that really stuck with me.  While I described myself as a self professed “analytical reflecter”, he described himself as a “chalkboard”, erasing  things of insignificance and moving forward with that which brought him not only growth and development, but also peace and joy. Wow! A chalkboard, huh? This really struck a chord. I began to think about “reflection” differently (You do realize I am reflecting about this thought provoking conversation concerning reflection, right? I really can’t help it.).

You are probably wondering how this is relevant to us as educators.  The relevance will reveal itself shortly.  Continuing on, I’d like to focus in on this word, “reflection”.  A “reflection” is defined in part as “a fixing of the thoughts on something or [taking] careful consideration”. Now, let’s add this idea of a chalkboard. A chalkboard is a black or green board that is written on with chalk.  All you need to convey information is a piece of chalk and an eraser.  If you write something on the chalkboard that is incorrect, you erase it, change it, and move forward. You may or may not recall what was once written, but there is clear evidence that something was there, as dust is left behind. Sometimes it gets dusty and messy from erasing so much, but a little residual dust does not impede the ability to move forward with conveying further information.  It’s quite basic and simple.  I’m going to call this a chalkboard reflection.  Converse to its partial definition, a chalkboard reflection may require only minimal consideration of some thoughts and/or ideas, as represented by the residual chalk dust (evidence that considerations did exist and were taken), but the fixation on thoughts is not there .  What has been said and done is just that, said and done. Erase it and move forward. There is no time for fixation, or preoccupation with matters that are out of our control. My wise friend’s analogy suddenly begins to make sense.

Now, let me take this further and add the idea of the more sophisticated Smart Board to our reflection.  The Smart Board is an interactive whiteboard, which has capabilities to operate as not only a whiteboard to write on, but also a computer and a projector, which means that files may be saved for later use.  Each component of the Smart Board is connected to the other through wireless connections or via USB/serial cables. There are so many additional components and capabilities that I cannot begin to name them all, nor is elaboration about them necessary amid this interpretation. I can say with confidence, however, that Smart Boards are indeed much more detailed and complicated than chalkboards. Now, we have what I’ll call a Smart Board reflection.  A Smart Board reflection may be described as a fixation on thoughts and a reiteration of considerations (since several files are saved and can be referred to over and over again). While information may be erased in order to create, recreate, upload, and/or retrieve new information, those erasures can be undone, much like a word document, allowing us to go back over our decisions as many times as we feel they should be revisited and reconsidered.  Well now…it appears that Smart Board reflections have the greater potential of becoming frustration, worry, and stress.  Funny, I didn’t feel that way when speaking about his chalkboard reflections earlier.

Here’s the relevance to educators. Research shows us that reflection may have altering effects on our instructional practice.  The degree to which we reflect and the center of our reflection is a choice we make.  Why fixate on something that has happened for which the outcome cannot be changed? Why preoccupy ourselves with circumstances that are out of our control? Yes, we all would like to save the world. We all would like to protect and nurture our students. We all would like each of our students to come from the ideal home, with the ideal parental involvement, with the ideal learning environment. We all would like that however, this is unrealistic.  This fixation and preoccupation, this Smart Board reflection, is what ultimately impedes our ability to instruct our students effectively because of our displaced focus.

Why not get back to the basics.  No, I don’t mean to get rid of the 21st century technology we have longed for all these many years. But what I do mean is, let’s refrain from over thinking our every move. Some things that happen, just happen. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It is what it is. Let’s not read into a colleagues question about why you chose a specific strategy for instruction. It doesn’t mean they discredit you. In fact, maybe it means they are inspired by you. Let’s not over analyze every suggestion our administrators make to mean we’re not cut out for teaching. Consider this instead, if you don’t over think it, what is suggested may just make sense. Yes, reflect on your practice for growth and development. But choose the degree to which you will reflect.  Will you choose to be a Smart Board reflecter, fixated on every single thought you have chosen to save in your mental database?  Think about it. You, yourself, have complicated certain considerations to the point of frustration, worry, and stress, by thinking about it, thinking about it, and thinking about it some more.  I know I have. Or, on the other hand, will you choose to be a chalkboard reflecter, erasing what is irrelevant but allowing yourself to learn from the residual dust left behind?  You see, you can’t fixate on something that is not there. The dust, however, is evidence that there was some sort of lesson to be learned.  Take the dust that is now on your hands and move forward into your next moment…your next lesson…your next venture.   The degree of reflection and the focus of your reflection is a choice…and the choice is all yours.

I wish you all the best, my fellow educators, for the New Year! Reflect, release, renew, recharge.

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