Following Danielson’s advice: "Find What You Love… Do More Of That…"

My last blog post was almost a year ago. If you don’t remember it (or more likely didn’t read it), give it a once over so the rest of this makes sense.

Danielson’s words haven’t just been ringing in my ears since his TMC15 keynote. They have been haunting my soul to return to my love: middle school.

This isn’t going to be a well thought out blog post (sorry, not sorry) because I can’t keep this a secret anymore:
I’m going back to the classroom in about a week to teach 8th grade!

This may be a surprise to a lot of people, but lemme explain:

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A Different Type of "Notice" and "Wonder"

As I was walking down a middle school hallway yesterday, I glanced up and noticed some hand drawn pictures of student faces with the phrase “I wonder…” at the beginning of each one. I noticed statements like:

–“I wonder how many stars there are in the night sky.”
–“I wonder if horses were ever used for something else.”
–“I wonder what New York looks like from the air.”
–“I wonder who is leading rushing in the NFL.”
–“I wonder how many hairs are on my head.”

I was excited at first, thinking this assignment was from a math class where students were asked something like, “What have you always wondered that might be number/math/geometry related?”

When I noticed the next set of pictures, however, I stopped in my tracks and my heart sank as I read:

–“I wonder why I’m here.”

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Perplexed in Patterns

So much time has passed since I last blogged that I forgot my account/password. I think I tried at least 3 combinations of each before I cracked into my Blogger account. Hopefully I will do better in the future. I know I promised two blog posts tonight, but I forgot how difficult blogging is with my attention span.

Instead of conducting PD this week, I’m actually attending some professional development through the University of Mississippi’s Center for Math and Science Education (@UMCMSE). I’ve probably mentioned how great this group is many times before. I attended their CCSS 3-5 workshop last year and fell in LOVE with elementary mathematics. What I love most about these workshops is that it doesn’t rely on a whole lot of tech. It’s basically, “How can we teach the standards in ways that students can make meaningful connections with stuff you probably already have in your classroom.” Unfortunately, “technology” isn’t standard across the state. In some schools, cell phones are banned from campus and wifi is wonky most of the time. This is also true for several schools in my district, SO going “low- or no-tech” is a challenge for me.

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How Much Is A Ton Of Dollars?

NOTE: Apparently Chris Robinson already asked this question on 101qs.com and I totally missed it (or forgot).
Sorry, dude. Ma bad.

I rarely watch TV these days, but today I heard this commercial while watching a recording of Perception (“Silence” episode):

“If you had a dollar for every dollar car insurance companies say they’ll save you by switching, you’d have like a ton of dollars.”

Oh really? Interesting.

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Mario’s Parabola… Or is it? (with Update)

Most of the time my A.D.D. is a huge pain, but tonight it actually gave me a cool idea. Well, sorta cool. Maybe not cool at all. I dunno – you make the call after you read this and let me know if I’m way off base.

BACKGROUND:
I’d shown a Dan Meyer video today (short and sweet video here). As usual, I didn’t close out the tab after I showed it (yes, Joelle, I know I have a problem). Tonight, I started to use that tab to search for something else, but a video on the side caught my eye:

Parabolas in Mario?!!
**watch it**

I thought, “Hmmmm… I see a some errors in there. I wonder what the reasons were? Is it a true misconception or is it lack of drawing capability? Do they think some of these statements are truly correct? Did they verify it mathematically on paper and can’t draw to match?? WHAAAAAAT happened???”

**I’m telling you, A.D.D. run amuck – I can get quite dramatic**

Anyway, I started to dismiss the video and get back to what I SHOULD be working on, but I accidentally scrolled in the wrong direction. I saw this comment:

…hold the phone. This could get interesting.

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Teaching CCSS-M to Administrators (No, I didn’t get fired)

While many of you are gearing down for the summer months (or are already enjoying your freedom), my job is kicking into gear. I am sad to be losing my summer (I can hear the sounds from the local pool from my back porch), but at the same time I’m looking forward to working with admins/teachers who are excited to learn new things.

All of our grades will be 100% CCSS-aligned by next year. Our K-2 have been doing CCSS for about 3 years, and grades 3-8 had fully implemented CCSS this past school year. Our high schools will be the last group to transition and those teachers have spent the last few weeks gearing up for that shift. The standards for Common Core are quite different from our previous state standards. In the past, we might have 60 +/- standards for a grade/course that were equally important. Some of those standards might be repeated for 2-4 years in a row to “ensure” retention/understanding. This, in my opinion, wasn’t efficient.

Teachers had too many standards and not enough time, so they were hitting it and moving on while hoping it might “stick” with the next grade. And our assessments were just… well, they were CRAP, to be honest (but that’s a rant for another time).

In talking with teachers last August, I kept hearing phrases like, “We don’t really know what to expect with the PARCC assessment.” So I started digging and, in December, showed the collaborative team leaders across the district how to read the test specs and put that information together with the performance level descriptors. This gave them a better understanding of what to expect on the PARCC (prior to the release of the sample test) and a lot of teachers were surprised about how much of a role the Standards for Mathematical Practice would play on the PARCC. (SIDE NOTE: I am working on a “How to Read PARCC” blog this weekend as well and will link as soon as it’s finished)

But for teachers to really be successful in this shift, I wanted to make sure they had support from administration. Math class doesn’t always look like they remember it to be or what they experienced. And it’s difficult to appreciate the difficulty, wonder and complexity of that shift if you can’t experience what math SHOULD be like. Or at least, that was my thought when we had our final meeting with administrators across the district.

My ELA comrade did a fantastic job showing our administrators a video of a wonderful elementary teacher in our district. She walked them through the video and the led discussions in the important parts of the CCSS ELA lesson. She had them point out student discussions and interactions so they could envision what they should see in a CCSS classroom.

My turn. They THOUGHT I was going to show them a video as well… Mwah ha ha ha…

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Out of the Classroom – Year in Review

Reflection time.

I’ve always been pretty tough on myself at the end of any year in the classroom. It was never in a “pity party” way, but more like a “come to Jesus” meeting with myself to keep me accountable for the following year. As a teacher, I always found things that needed tweaking the following year (classroom organization, boring lessons that needed tweaking, scaffolding issues, etc.). 2013-14 was completely new for me in every way. Needless to say, this is going to sting a little lot more than usual.

I’m going to set this up “Letterman” style.

5. Online PD Modules

I really wanted to put a lot of PD online so that we could cut down on the time that I had to pull teachers out of the classroom (which I HATE to do). Hopefully I can work on developing some of that over the summer. Teachers deserve access to PD that allows them to learn on their own time. They deserve for our professional development opportunities to transition with emerging technology in the same way they are expected to transition their courses with emerging standards.

4. Organizing Resources for Teachers

I’m constantly finding resources for teachers that I think might be helpful. I had such great plans to disseminate those resources to our teachers, but could never find a method that would work. But I need a method that I can use quickly and easily. Does something like that even exist? Here’s what I envision for my perfect app: I receive an e-mail, see a tweet, read a blogpost, etc., and here’s this amazing link that I want to make available to my teachers. I want to be able to immediately (from phone or computer) categorize it by pre-set notebooks/tags by grade and/or gradeband/course, then CCSS domain, possibly along with specific Common Core standard(s) and/or math practice(s). I want to be able to do this within a few seconds. I want teachers to be able to have access to those links as well. My brain screams “EVERNOTE, you big dummy”, but I can’t seem to streamline it so that it happens in the time constraint I want. What am I missing? I know there has to be a way.

3. Read

No, I don’t mean recreationally (I didn’t do that either). I mean I failed at reading things that matter to my profession. I didn’t feel like I had the time. I saw the books and book studies my MTBoS crew collaborated on and I was honestly in envy. I only read one professional book this year, and I need to make time to do this over the summer and next year. With my a.d.d. brain, I need to make a schedule and commit to this 100%. Opportunities for professional development for math coaches/specialists are limited in my area, and I need this in order to serve my teachers and schools the way they deserve. In the same way I would research and study to learn something to be a better teacher for my students (like I did with logarithms), I need to do this to be more effective for the teachers in my district.

2. Meeting with PLC/CLT from K-12

Some schools call them Professional Learning Communities, some call them Collaborative Learning Teams. I met with several across the district and across the grades, but I felt like it was Waffle House-style: scattered, smothered and covered. Next year, I need to set up a scheduled rotation to meet with our teams. Not half, not most – ALL. They can’t believe I’m in their corner if I don’t see them all face-to-face. I can’t make them comfortable with my presence in their classrooms if they can’t get to know me on a personal level. I can’t build trust if they don’t see me as a resource. I need to find a way to make this work.

1. Getting feedback to teachers after visits

I honestly thought that being in classrooms would be the majority of my work. I realized pretty quickly that a lot of work has to go on behind the scenes, and I struggled trying to keep a balance. I got overwhelmed a lot. I would often pop into classrooms and have small conversations immediately after, but not the in-depth ones that I wanted and needed to have. I need to learn more strategies for questioning when I talk to teachers. In the same way that we have strategies for questioning students about their thinking and understanding, I need those types of strategies when talking to teachers. But with that also comes scheduling and time to have those discussions. I want it to be meaningful, but I am very respectful of the limited time teachers have during the day. I feel e-mails are way too impersonal for something so important. I would rather do it face-to-face and soon after the observation. But I don’t feel that I did that well at all. Not even a little. Not even close. This is my biggest failure, in my opinion.

If any teacher from my district were to read this post, I’m sure they would have dozens of additional ways that I failed them, and I would probably agree with every single one. It might have been easier to roll into a position where norms and expectations were previously defined, but then again maybe not. The great (and completely terrifying) thing about my position is that I am creating a job description from the ground up. But would I say that I fulfilled all of the expectations that I set for myself in the beginning? NO.

We have many upcoming changes in our district over the next several months, including an election for a new Superintendent. I have no idea what might happen over the next year, but here are some things that I do know:

    • One of the best things about my job is being able to see teachers in action that I’d never have met if I was still in the classroom. I have found teachers that are, for me, the equivalent of professional “Red Bull” – they bring it 100% every day and I get energized as soon as I walk in their classes.
    • Everyone in my department puts students first and we support each other. I don’t think I could have made it through the year without my ELA “partner in crime”. I have never seen anyone fight harder for students and support teachers more than our Assistant Superintendent. And our Federal Programs Director wears so many hats and does more in a day than I think I do in a month. None of them read my blog, so this isn’t about kissing up. It’s about saying up front who I am thankful for (and who I’d lose my mind without). If any one of those people left our organization, our district would suffer tremendously.

gt;

  • I’ve lost friends over this job and it sucks, but it’s reality. However, I have to remember that I know where my heart is in all of this (even if other people don’t). I have to remember that sometimes a person’s concern/fear needs a target, and that my forehead now offers that bullseye. I have to remember that it’s probably not personal but if it is, it’s probably because of my approach.

 

I have a lot of work to do (as you can see by my summer calendar):

And, just like when I started teaching, it may take me a few years before it runs like clockwork. Implementing CCSS cannot happen overnight and it won’t be a complete success the first year. But I think our teachers and our district are both dedicated to making it happen.

I hope they will allow me to continue to support them in that process.