Progress Update, as promised

Well…things were accomplished…but not the things planned.  I found myself reading several professional books to have better background knowledge going into a reading “focus” meeting  that was planned for Friday.  While this kept me from accomplishing my master’s related goal, I think it was the right use of my time this week.  The decisions that are being made have the potential to have a long-term impact and I (still) am just not sure that there is enough understanding about our targets (CCSS) and about our current weaknesses.  We seem to be making decisions in the same manner a prom queen is chosen – do we know her and mostly like her already?

This weekend has turned out to be very family oriented, which frankly we all need sometimes, too!  So….back on track…maybe in the morning.  Considering the coffee shop route if I can motivate myself to get up early enough tomorrow!

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Brief ASCD Reflection

Just returned from ASCD…..an experience that was both incredibly inspiring, and incredibly depressing.  

I heard amazing speakers – education rockstars.  All the fresh perspectives and ideas were engaging and the potential astounding.  But all the while, I am thinking none of these things will happen anytime in the near future where I work.  I sent an excited message back to a coworker about some work being done implementing a purposeful awareness the best “habits” of successful people in the elementary classroom – the response: “Is it directly related to reading or writing?” Um. I don’t even know how to answer that.

I came back to the same discussions I left.  

So.  What can I do to implement the changes I want to see in my own classroom…the knowing-doing gap.  I know many of the things I want to do and should do.  It is hard without a coach, without support, but as they say “be the change you want to see.” So, more action

Step 1: Finish the work I need to do on the master’s project so I can implement it.  Time to spend some evenings alone with my computer and books…..

I will be accountable to myself here, since as of now, I am not being held accountable by anyone else….progress update on Friday.

Twitterized

I had taken an online technology class 5 years or so ago and gotten into RSS feeds, Edmodo, and a few other tools.  The reality of teaching in a middle school with limited access to the computer lab and with very few students having internet access at home put a major damper on my excitement about the online collaboration tools available at that time.  I subscribed to lots of blogs….but the numbers of posts and (in my mind) unappealing layout of Google Reader led me to eventually abandon many of the exciting ideas I had gained from the class.

This fall I attended a professional conference held by our state union.  I went on my own dime, alone, because I had gone once in the past and felt that many of the sessions offered the best PD I have had outside of some post-graduate courses I have taken for credit.  I happened to stop into a session by Will Richardson because we had used his book in the previously mentioned class.  I was armed with an iPad I had just been given to “try out” by my school and was downloading apps like crazy as he mentioned them throughout the session.  Feedly = Love My RSS Feed Again! Have subscribed to new blogs — a lot of them! Evernote = Well, I’m Still Figuring It Out.  But the real gem…..Twitter.

I created an account during the session…..and have been checking, posting, RTing and participating in education related tweetchats ever since. My preconceived notion of Twitter as a hub  for the mundane (“I just had pancakes for breakfast” to the celebrity posts “I just had no-carb pancakes for breakfast”) was blown to bits.  I have jumped in and haven’t looked back.  My new PLN is affecting what is happening in my classroom every single day.  Really.  I don’t think I was a bad teacher before, but I am definitely a better teacher now. But….it isn’t those classroom application ideas that I think are the most beneficial part of Twitter for me.

It is the community.  Twitter is a space where there is a positive energy about education.  There are lively discussions.  There is support for ideas and suggestions.  And it isn’t because everyone agrees (I disagreed with Scott McLeod in a twitter chat….yeah, I was a little awestruck but went for it anyway!) but the disagreement and discussion is civil.  People call people out on comments which leads to further discussion to flesh out the ideas.  I think for many people, those discussions are not had within their school.  Disagreement or questioning the status quo is often taken as an offense and there are hurt feelings.  So in many cases, teachers isolate themselves, stay in their rooms, or just avoid discussions about kids and education.  Twitter chats open the doors for those teachers to think and participate in a non-threatening way.  Honestly, when I think about other teachers from my school getting onto twitter….I don’t what I think about it.  I know I should be encouraging it, but I can’t help but wonder how my own twitter experience would change if I knew that my tweets were being seen by the people who I can’t have those discussions with face to face for fear of general discussions being taken personally.

Busy times! But One More “How did we get here” post…

So…..having been in various states of not meeting AYP in different categories, at different levels almost since the beginning of my time and working in a school where many teachers have understandably adopted a “this too shall pass” attitude about standards, programs, reforms, grants, etc AND having had principals and superintendents averaging less than 2 years on the job…..we start this fall.  With a new principal in his first job as a principal.  With a new designation as a state that is under a NCLB waiver.  With a “new” “plan” developed with assistance from the very same people who have overseen all of our previous (unsuccessful) “plans.”

The new “plan” focuses on Reading/Language Arts since our Math is showing improvement after adopting a new curriculum.  So this fall, we come in for a paid morning to learn about our new plan.  

1. 20 minutes of AR time/day (okay, that isn’t officially in the plan….but the new principal’s kids do it at their school and they really like it.)

2. STAR Reading test taken quarterly. NWEA is out.

3. There must be reading to self, writing, and word work daily.  (some of us had already started Daily 5 book study)

So….the new “plan” includes no Professional Development, no real direction, and basically nothing new.  Frustration sets in before school even started….

But then……I discovered Twitter 🙂

My School – A Historical Perspective

I think to understand some of why the school is where it is today, it is necessary to understand some of the history.  One factor that is important to understanding things is that the school is on a reservation – currently the student population is about 65% Native American, but that has fluctuated greatly over the past 50 years for a variety of reasons.  Obviously, the historical aspect of the Native American experience with boarding schools and how that impacted families and feelings about education is a factor still today that cannot be overlooked.  We also currently have  about 75% of our students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.  While these factors affect our school from the student side, they have also had a major impact on our teachers.

Long before NCLB, focus was on improving education for low-performing minority groups.  Additionally, some states were working on various forms of state standards or learning goals.  So, schools with certain populations were often the subject of grant proposals by various institutions and other groups.  Teachers in these schools then have been inundated with the “latest-greatest” flavor of the year in education for years.  People come in with the program of choice, or with a new way of documenting curriculum, or whatever it might be….the teachers put in hours of extra work….and the next year it is pushed aside for the newest trend.  These initiatives were rarely teacher or even district-led.  With each successive year, the veteran teachers (who had been through the process numerous times) were less likely to fully commit or become engaged in the process.

With this history, NCLB, state standards, and AYP come into the picture.  Teachers at these schools in many cases did not buy into it.  There was a “this too shall pass” attitude in many ways that led to indifference.  Given the history, can anyone blame them?

Within a few short years, our school was “in AYP.” So the outside “experts” come to help write the plans to make the state happy.  And with the plans come consultants, PLCs, and new programs.  All of which change yearly.  Each year, we hear the same ideas from a different consultant about differentiation.  Each year we have a new program of choice – none of which we are well trained in, none of which have any follow through, and none of which are carried on past the first year.  Each year we change our PLC plan – once a month interest groups, every other week by subject area, every week by grade level….with no clear guidance, these groups mostly evolve into gripe-sessions.  Our scores do not improve.

Which brings us (finally!) to the present.  We do have a new principal this year.  We do have a new “plan” (of course!).  We are now under different requirements as one of the states that applied for a waiver.  And, I find myself turning inward.  In the past, I have been concerned about the big picture of our school.  I’m not sure I can sustain that.  I recently joined Twitter and the PLN I am building there is inspirational and has prompted me to do more personal reflection.  Right now, I think I need to focus my energy on my classroom, my family and myself.  So….I will blog.

A Bit of History

My path to where I am today was not direct, but did inform my beliefs about education.  I had a good public school K-12 experience.  Not outstanding, but I did have all the skills I needed to enter college and be successful in any field I might have wanted to pursue.  After a year of college, including a dissatisfying experience as a scholarship athlete…..it seemed like a good time to take a break.  So I enjoyed (really!) 5 years of minimum wage jobs in retail, “food service” (aka, waitressing and bartending), “financial services” (aka, a teller), and finally in the mortgage closing business.  Honestly, I enjoyed all of my jobs….but I also knew there was a ceiling and that these were not jobs that would ever support a family.

I returned to college to find that all those scholarships that were offered to a successful high school graduate were nowhere to be seen when I was applying as a former college dropout – an expensive lesson!  However, I think that the experiences I had during those 5 years have proven invaluable in my teaching career.

Fast forward through college to my first full-time teaching job!  I moved from the beautiful area I had lived to an area I have grown to love and where good teachers are always needed…..one of hundreds of small K-12 schools that exist on the periphery.  There are challenges in all our schools right now, but in many schools like ours, there is a feeling that the discussions, the debates, the decisions are happening without consideration of or understanding that we exist — and our story, our successes and failures, are not the same.