Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Slice of Life - Analyzing Student Work

I am confident that when the day for me to return to the classroom that I will be a far better teacher than when I left it. I am approaching the end of my 2nd year as a beginning teacher mentor in my school district. My district follows the New Teacher Center model for beginning teacher induction and support. In order to be a mentor in my district, I am required to participate in mentoring induction and training. The training provided in partnership with the Oregon Department of Education has been, by far, some of the best professional development I have participated in. It has really stretched my thinking about how to best support teachers (actually, I wish I had had this training before I jumped into the exciting world of school administrator several nearly 8 years ago) and has helped me develop skills as an instructional coach. I have a L-O-N-G way to go in my mentor development (I am only a second year mentor, after all) but I have found mentoring to be inspiring and the perfect jumpstart to reignite the educator in me. I will be eternally grateful to the 20+ teachers I have had the opportunity to mentor over the past two years. Beginning teacher mentoring is the way we do business in my district; however, the teachers I have supported have been willing and accepting participants. I have learned so much from them.

One tool that we utilize in our work is called the Analysis of Student Work (ASW). The process of the ASW opens up a conversation about formative assessment and also gives us an opportunity to hone in on what we are assessing. Once the formative assessment is administered, together we sort the student work into four categories: far below standard, approaching standard, meets standard, & exceeds standard. We then select one students work to represent each category. Using the student work, we define what the students are able to do and then determine what the learning needs are. Including what the students can do was a shift in thinking for me - I am not sure if it's human nature or if was just me, but it seems instinctual to view student work from a deficit model. I appreciate that the first step in the process is looking at strengths first - not deficits. I have observed more than once teacher reactions when they identify what their students can do - it really helps us all celebrate where the student(s) is at and be more cognizant about how to move the student forward.

In previous work I've done with grade level data teams when I was in the classroom, we had done quite a bit of placing students in red, yellow, and green zones. I am not saying that that work did not have value, but I am finding that it is easier to have a conversation about moving students to the next level instead of having this broad range of student who are strategic and intensive. I have found the conversations in the ASW process to focus on moving all students forward not just moving students out of the "red" or "yellow". I am refreshed by the number of conversations that have focused on specific ways to support students move from far below to approaching and attached to a specific standard or skill instead of "we have X number of students that still need to pass the statewide assessment". The ASW process fosters a culture of looking at every kid and supporting every kid. 

The next step of the process involves looking for patterns and then we begin developing a plan for differentiating instruction. Differentiation is the focus for April so the ASW process will continue. My hope is that we follow this ASW process enough times that it just becomes second nature to teachers - that the act of having formative assessment, mental sorting of students, and meeting needs through differentiated instruction becomes like breathing and that teachers (including me) do all of it without thinking. It's habit.

I will say that one of my favorite ASW stories from this past week involves a science teacher that I support. She had chosen a writing prompt tied to a controversial topic (animal testing vs. organ on a chip). Right off the bat I was encouraged by the fact that she was selecting a task that integrates with the instruction provided in the English Language Arts. She then provided short articles for students to read and a number of activities to nudge students to take a stance. Her focus for the ASW was strictly on the ideas and content of the students' writing. Through the course of the conversation, she came to the conclusion that she needs to provide opportunities for students to debate and defend their position. The argument does not always need to appear in writing. She wants to foster the skill of thinking critically. Yes, it's all tied to common core state standards; however, it's tied to being a scientist as well. As we sat together she was formulating places within units to incorporate argument/debate. She also started verbally thinking through frequency of opportunity to pick a side and really defend it. For students that can already defend, she was developing ideas about how to build the skill of counter-arguement. The point is that SHE did the work - she figured it out. I did not sit and tell her what to do or how to do it. She came to the conclusion on her own. At one point, she stated, "you're really making me think here." It was at that moment that I knew I had asked the right question. It was at that point where I had that feeling of, "THIS is what it means to mentor." It's not about making a bunch of Kristins in the classroom. It's about supporting teachers to develop into their own teacher self.

My growth as a mentor was evident to me during that particular Analysis of Student Work. It is a good feeling. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slice of Life - Now what do I write about?

I am not the first one to blog about struggling to have a topic to blog about. I'm completely, 100% in that spot at this very moment. I'm somewhat bothered that I haven't kept up with the Slice of Life challenge to blog every day in March; however, I am going to look at what's good and acknowledge the fact that I've posted more than once. Or twice even. For me, life gets in the way - meetings that run into the evening hours, sick kid (seriously, I'm VERY ready for this cold and flu season to be O-V-E-R!), and then the night like tonight where I am just flat out tired. Super tired.

Sometimes when I really struggle to know what to write about I go to pictures. Tonight, I casually looked through the pictures on my iPhone and came across this one of my husband and Maddie.

Maddie is a cuddle queen. It's one of the many things I love about her - the fact that she wants to be close to us. As she grows older, though, she definitely expresses a preference for her daddy. A piece of me is sad by the fact that I begin to take a back seat in terms of who she prefers to be with, but on the other hand, I love that she loves her daddy the way she does and that she's old enough to tell him herself.

I had my own special relationship with my dad. There were two of us girls in the house growing up, but we both knew that we were special, in different ways, to my dad. I was considered dad's princess while my sister was dad's kindred spirit that he would leave funny Far Side comics for on the refrigerator. Watching Maddie with her daddy reminds me of the high expectations my dad had of us but there not being any doubt in our minds that we were loved. My dad was a bit of a paradox to me. In so many ways he was not a traditional Japanese - we did not grow up with a lot of Asian traditions (that came later in life thanks to my Aunt Suzye). On the other hand, there was not a lot of "I love yous" or affection. I observed him with his parents, my grandparents, and there was this unstated sense of "I love you." I knew my dad cared about each of us kids and that he loved us. To some extent, I am like him in that I tend to not be overly affectionate with my family - mom, brother, sister, and poor hubby. It's almost like I expect everyone to just know that I love them (this is a realization as I type this, by the way).

Now, as I watch Maddie with her daddy, I appreciate that he cuddles with her and verbally tells her, every day, "I love you." It is a physical closeness that I never experienced and reminds me of a statement about how dads are the first men that daughters fall in love with. I believe that to be true as I watch Maddie and her Daddy together. Surprisingly, it's not something I'm jealous of, I love it. To me, it just feels weird to have this sudden release of not being the only one that Maddie prefers. I love their bond. 

Hmmm...I guess I found something to blog about, eh? :o)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Slice of Life - Little Girl Chatter

The month of March means a Slice of Life post every day. I haven't posted every day but am proud of the fact that today I post three days in a row. Progress. :o)
One expectation when joining in on the Slice Challenge is to read and respond to at least three other Slicers. Not only does this practice build community, but it also serves a source of inspiration. I needed some inspiration today as I struggled to figure out what to even write about.
I appreciated several of the posts I read today where other Slicers shared that they, too, were struggling with what to write. There's something soothing about knowing that I'm not the only one struggling to write. Others wrote about the conferences they attended over the weekend. Others shared about simple things going on in their lives - that's when it hit me. I am making this Slice of Life Challenge too difficult on myself. 
The lesson that I learned from my fellow Slicers was to write about what is going on around me. I was searching for theses "deep thought" moments going on around me and they just weren't materializing. I relaxed a bit and just sat and listened.
I heard the sound of my daughter's chatter as she sat "resting" on the couch.
I realized today that I don't slow down enough to do nothing but just listen to her. At this particular moment she was talking for her Frozen dolls, Anna and Elsa. She was making up their conversation rather than taking it as a replay of the movie. Just the sound of my daughter's little voice made my heart swell. I love the sound of her voice; the creativity in the doll conversation; her innocence. I appreciated the fact that just sitting at my laptop preparing to write this Slice gave me a chance to slow down and listen. 
I need to do this more often - just listen to my little girl chatter. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Slice of Life & Celebrate!

Since it's Saturday and I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge as well as Celebrate! I will be posting one post for both.

Discover. Play. Build. 

The week ended with my daughter being sick (again...) and me reflecting on a conversation that I had with a colleague where I came to the realization that I need to apologize. That's tough - admitting you're wrong. I may not have been wrong in what I said but the way I said "it" was not a way that made me proud. I should have resorted to mentor behavior and asked questions instead of speaking out in such a harsh way. The behavior in itself is not reason to celebrate but the fact that I recognize it and am motivated to remedy the situation is growth on my part. It is not easy for me to admit wrong doing nor do I always have the courage to apologize. 

Since I ended my work week on a shaky note, today's post is really an opportunity for me to focus on the positive. The coach I work with through the Chalkboard Project as I manager my district's Collaboration Grant is constantly pushing me to look for the progress we have made this year and to celebrate it. Today's post will reflect a lot of the celebrating I am doing in that part of my job. 

1. I needed some time to focus on a few projects around the house. I try to be fairly organized, but it feels like things are spiraling out of control a bit. My husband took Maddie fishing at a local reservoir - this is the picture that my husband sent me.
The happiness I feel with this pictures comes from two places. First of all, I love that Maddie loves to spend time with her daddy. I love, too, that her daddy helps her to enjoy life outdoors. For me, being outdoors involves a chair and a book - I love that my husband adds some balance to her life. Second, is that this picture brings back good memories of my dad posing for pictures with his catch of the day as well. I am sure he was smiling down on Maddie as she fished. 

2. My work week began with a second meeting for the month with the Collaboration Grant's District Leadership Team. Our coach, Annie, did an opening activity with us that she called a Chalk Talk. 
The directions were for each of us to respond to the prompt she gave us (Speaking for your future self, what does it look like when Professional Development is done really well?). We were to use a marker to write on the butcher paper (resembling a chalk board) and we could not say a word. What ensued was pretty powerful! It's worth noting that the team is comprised of administrators and teachers and a school board member. There's been some tension in the group as we try to work our way through developing a sustainable professional development plan that meets everyone's needs. Sometimes the conversation feels like we are on opposing sides. The power in the Chalk Talk came from the fact that every voice was "heard" and the results were that we all wanting for the same things in PD: job embedded, relevant, choice. We still have our work ahead of us as we work to meet the goals we established when writing the grant but then also as we look ahead to what next year holds. I have high hopes that we will be moving away from what we've always done in my district - a one size fits all plan that has yielded the same results time and again.

3. Groups of teachers from each of the five elementary schools in my district continue to roll out the pilot of iWalkthrough, a web-based peer observation tool. In the 20 years I have been in my school district, we have not spent much time in each other's classrooms, much less provided feedback about what we observe. iWalkthrough provides us with a tool to go in and do three minute observations of our peers and record the observations. Feedback centers on practices such as engagement, teacher talk, student talk, use of technology, etc. It's too soon to celebrate the data, per se, but as the grant manager I have access to the district data and it is exciting to see the data base grow as teachers are observing. The fact that teachers are in each other's classrooms is reason to celebrate. I look forward to seeing how the data collection impacts teacher practice. 
Two teachers calibrate with the peer observation coach.
4. We completed a second 3-hour session of Common Formative Assessment training facilitated by one of our own administrators. We talk a lot about Common Formative Assessment but are only beginning to support teachers professional development needs with writing their own. For me, it's just exciting to see teachers learning and growing together around assessment. 

At the end of the day, I am happy when there's evidence that some of teachers' professional needs are being met. I am not the one doing the training but I am a part of making it happen for teachers in my district. Teacher needs being met is reason to celebrate.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Slice of Life: Happy Pi(e) Day!

The month of March brings on the Slice of Life Challenge where bloggers are encouraged to post daily about, well, a slice of life from their day. Link up with Two Writing Teachers to read what others post for their Slice of Life daily challenge.

Ok. So I've been struggling to keep up with the daily Slice challenge for March. I've had a lot of evening meetings which shifts everything that needs to be done: dinner, bath, books, bed. The time change (pesky daylight savings) has been tricky this year-Maddie was noticeably off on Monday; in fact, she said to me, "I'm just not feeling myself." All that aside, evenings/nights are when I tend to blog for the day. I'm thinking I need to rearrange things I blog for the next day's posting. I'm open to suggestion about how others manage. 

Enough of that. Today was Pi(e) day. The day itself was uneventful. Only one of the teachers at seminar had on a Pi Day t-shirt...a middle school math teacher. 

My alma mater posted a picture on Facebook of runners who had a Pi Day run-a 3.14 mile run that began at 3:14. Brilliant! I want to organize one for my school district for next school year. 

Maddie is too young to understand Pi, but we went ahead & celebrated with peach pie & vanilla bean ice cream. If nothing else, my husband & I could take about the number of circle related formulas that included the Pi sign. It's amazing how rusty the brain gets when one is not teaching Geometry. 

It's days like today that make me miss the classroom. Don't get me wrong-I love to mentor. However, it's these kinds of days that I miss celebrating with students. Who doesn't love pie, but more importantly, who doesn't love celebrating a mathematical symbol. :o) 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Slice of Life: Life in Perspective

The month of March brings on the Slice of Life Challenge where bloggers are encouraged to post daily about, well, a slice of life from their day. Link up with Two Writing Teachers to read what others post for their Slice of Life daily challenge.

I have actually been avoiding my blog this past week - not blogging means that I can avoid being some raw emotions that I experienced this past week.

I live in a rural coastal town where we tend to know everyone's business. Social media adds another layer of knowing what is going on. In February, a lot was circulating over Facebook about praying for a man named Kurt Robinson. Kurt needed a 2nd double lung transplant.

Kurt attended school in the district where I work - so my colleagues know him because they coached & taught him. His mom has been employed by my school district. His brother-in-law is an administrator here. Kurt's sister is employed by the ESD (educational service district) and works in my district as a speech pathologist. I have never crossed paths with Kurt himself, but know him of him based on my other work relationships and friendships. 

There's a lot that has been circulating over my Facebook feed about friends and relatives who have shared the comments of "positive thoughts sent their way", or "prayer for healing", or "please consider donating" - Kurt's story didn't push any emotional buttons, initially. 

When I saw GoFundMe/KurtRobinson begin to cross my feed I became more curious about the specifics of what is going on with this man that I know of but do not know personally.  

Through the GoFundMe website, I linked up to Kurt's blog and was able to learn about Kurt's journey leading up to his first lung transplant only two years ago. His story blew me away. To begin with, he put a face to a disease that I have only heard of - cystic fibrosis. Next, reading of his first journey and the false "starts" for his initial lung transplant were unreal to me. He was in the fight for his life and in a horrible twist, he was fighting the same battle all over again. 

His blog brought his condition to life. In February, when he was hospitalized, his wife continued his blog giving me an opportunity to know her as well. Kurt and his wife, Lisa, were no longer people who were random individuals showing up on my Facebook feed. They were real people opening up about the realities of their fight for survival. 

A bit less than a week ago, the family received news that there was a set of donor lungs only to find out that once the lungs were harvested that the lungs were not viable. A day later, Kurt was taken off of the donor list (he had deteriorated that much). The day after that his family agreed to take him slowly off of life supports. Kurt died at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday.

I was saddened by Kurt's death. It seemed unfair that this man who so many talked about as kind and courageous was taken from life too soon. However, was particularly difficult for me to cope with was the impact that his death would have on his wife, his sister(s), and his mother. I identified with all three of these women because it could have easily been me - not the one dying, but the one left behind. I would be heartbroken, as a sister, if anything happened to any one of my brothers or sisters. I would be completely devastated if anything were to happen to my husband. If anything were to happen to my daughter - I think I'd rather die, too. His mom, Sheryl, losing her son is what as stuck with me the most. I grieve for her in what feels like an unnatural occurrence. It doesn't seem "right" when children die before their parents. 

I appreciate Kurt and his family opening up about their lives - Kurt's battle with Cystic Fibrosis; his life as Kurt 2.0 (as he called it); and then the last chapter of his life that his wife subsequently documented for the rest of us. I have a lump in my throat as I think about the post that Kurt's wife posted today - the letter that he wrote to her in January just in case another lung transplant was not successful or possible. (Read From the man I loved).

I thought that when my dad died in 2010 that I had gained perspective. In the business of work and life, I have veered off of that perspective and have become unbalanced. Kurt's story, his family's story, has refocused my perspective. My work is important to me, but at the end of the day, I will be actively appreciating and taking advantage of every moment with my husband, my beautiful daughter, my extended family. Life is too short.