Saturday, September 13, 2014

Math Council Meeting #1

Math Council met for our first meeting of the 2014-2015 school year on Wednesday. Our agenda was packed because of all the changes this year. We have new standards, new content limits, new item specifications, and new state standardized assessments. We also have new online tools purchased by the district.

Knowing what we do about S-C-I-A (Standards, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment) alignment, we know that new standards and the definition of how we assess them, changes everything. It changes the curriculum units we use as teacher tools, the instructional content we teach, the rigor and depth of the questioning we use, the level of tiered instruction we'll implement, the assessment questions we create, and the homework we give. It basically turns back the clock of time.

We start all agendas with a quote; It seemed fitting that I used, "In places where most people see challenges, Julie Jackson sees opportunity and promise." from a new text I'm reading, Leverage Leadership.  At The Creek we've always seen challenges as opportunities. Though we will be turning to new, we know that with the new, often brings growth. It'll be hard work but in the end will lead students to a deeper math understanding.  As professionals it will require us to study and hone our craft, but we are ready and willing.

The agenda was structured around four questions, Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going, How Will We Get There, and What Do We Need to Get There? 

Where Have We Been?:  We quickly analyzed last year's data to give us a clear picture of what we had accomplished and what next steps remained.  Due to all the changes, we didn't spend time setting new goals based on this data, rather will closely monitor our exit tickets and common aligned assessments as we move forward this year.

Where Are We Going?:  The majority of our time together was spent on discussion about our new standards and the new state assessment. To begin, council members paired up and took a true/false quiz on the new Grade 3 standards that was written by our third grade math lead, Ashley Russell. The team answered the questions to the best of their ability and then logged on to to look up answers. After they looked up a few, Ashley provided an answer key with notes. Here is a partial part of that quiz:    

Grade 3 Mathematical Florida Standards

Use multiplication and division within 100. 
TRUE         FALSE
Understand the Associative Property of Multiplication.
TRUE         FALSE

By the end of Grade 3, students will know from memory all products through 12 x 12.
TRUE         FALSE
through 9x9
Solve one-step word problems using the four operations.
TRUE         FALSE
Use place value understanding to round whole numbers to the nearest 10 and 100 only.
TRUE         FALSE

The leads found the exercise interactive and beneficial with getting acquainted with the standards and saw the benefit in clearing up misconceptions. As they create their own standards quiz for their grade level, I've asked them to share a copy with me. Having a vertical picture of the math standards is one goal of the Math Council team.

"Standards are meaningless until you define how to assess them." Another quote taken from Leverage Leadership which created the springboard for our next activity. We logged on to the Florida Assessments Training Test at and took a Training Test. (Open in Firefox, Click on Students/Parents, Click on Training Test, Click on Sign In as Guest User, and Start Test).

Right away, our leads recognized the depth of change. Students would have to get really comfortable with technology tools, varying question stems, answering with multiple correct answers rather than just choosing a best answer. A deeper level of content understanding and number sense would be necessary. The list goes on and on. The Training Test shows the rigor at which the state plans to assess.

How Will We Get There?:  I put together binders for each lead with the grade level standards, the content to be covered on their grade level test, and the sample item specifications of new questions and stems. We turned our attention for a few minutes to these documents that will need to be dissected in order for full understanding and to give leads the ability needed to begin making changes to the assessment questions on their common aligned grade level assessments, exit tickets, and homework. This is where the depth of our time, energy, and expertise will be needed this year to begin the massive revisions.

Again, I used Leverage Leadership by reviewing Chapter 1 on Instruction, highlighting major points, to give leads an understanding of why we need these revisions to be common, state assessment aligned, and curriculum aligned. It will be a difficult and time consuming, but we have to find a way.

Our discussion in this area also included the importance of teachers following the Learning Schedule. Only when learning schedules are followed can common aligned assessment occur for grade level discussion of student work and assessment results. The level of rigor needed must be embraced across all classrooms on a grade level. We plan on much more sharing of student work during Teacher Meetings to make this a reality.

What Do We Need To Get There?:  With a change in standards, comes changes in content. Some of the new standards will mean rearranging curriculum units between grade levels, others will require buying new materials, and yet others will mean that we need professional development in certain areas. We know, we will need inch rulers in first grade, Number Talk books in K/1, and we will need to send leads to the Florida Math Conference. I'm sure there are other needs, too, that will emerge, and this team stands ready to fulfill the requests.

We also recognize that new ideas will be implemented and old ideas tweaked to better meet the needs of all students. Though, I called these Tidbits on this month's agenda, as we move forward I'll call them Small Gems. Two small gems from this meeting included Ashley's implementation of a Today's Number Sheet during her math center teacher led group, and Angela's implementation of her common board configuration and lesson planning. They were ideas that were shared so others, seeing connections, may immediately implement.

If you are interested in reading more about our Math Council meetings, stay tuned... We met, again, on October 8th! 

Distributed Leadership Team

We had our first Math Council meeting of the 2014-2015 school year on Wednesday and as I began to pen a post about our time together, I realized that what first needed to be understood was the structure of our distributed leadership in our learning community and the fundamental reason that this team had assembled.

Over a decade ago when we embraced the America's Choice comprehensive school design, they met with our founding principal and asked her to put together a Leadership Team. The make up of the team was to include the school's leaders that would guide the school's vision instructionally and culturally,and make day to day decisions, together as a team, that would steer us in achieving our vision and mission. Members included the principal, vice principal, instructional coaches, guidance counselor, and our community outreach coordinators. Over the years, the make up of this team was fluid but the goal never changed, to distribute leadership throughout the school to ensure the school's goals were achieved.

In those early days, we were blessed with reading and math coaches who planned for and implemented the school's professional development and also did daily in class coaching. This meant that we were having quality discussion at our Leadership Team table about the instructional goals and plans of the school. In time, however, as our school's funding increasingly tightened, vice principal positions vanished, and multiple content coaches became non-existent, we had arrived at a different destination.

We were at a point where there was funding for the principal position and one instructional coach only. Our team had lost critical members and the focus on instruction had began to shift. We knew we needed to redefine our Leadership Team and more heavily embrace teacher leadership. We needed and wanted more of our leadership conversation to be focused on vertical articulation in each content area but we had to do it without funding to add more people.

The birth of the Curriculum Leadership Council emerged. The CLC would be comprised of an English Language Arts Council, Math Council, and Science Council. Each council would be made up of a lead teacher from each grade level in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade responsible for taking the content our council meetings and distributing the message and professional learning to each of the grade level teams during their weekly Teacher Meetings.

The principal would meet with the whole CLC Leadership Team the first Wednesday of the month, and then I would run ELA Council the second Wednesday, Math Council the third Wednesday, and Science Council the fourth Wednesday of the month. The teams would meet from 8:30-10:00 am. The principal had strategically set up the resource schedule on Wednesdays to give extra resource to the classes where teachers were involved in Council Meetings and/or have a co-teacher cover. 

In the couple of years that I planned for and ran each Council group, I was stretched incredibly thin. I did the best I could to stay one step ahead, and although the Council groups were better than what we had, they were not as good as what we needed.

We were thrilled when a Reading Coach position was added and Melanie embraced the role.  She then became the chair of the ELA Council. This allowed her to plan for and implement ELA Council, attend some of the Teacher Meetings, provide book study, and do in class coaching. The momentum had changed and the depth of the ELA work of the school had a significant, marked difference. Melanie embraced her own learning, attended national training, began implementing new ideas and curriculum tools. Our ELA instruction began showing positive signs of growth.

On the math side, although we don't have the funds to hire a math coach, the district did add an Assistant Principal position.  I assumed that AP position and continued to lead the Math Council. Although, I don't have as much time as a dedicated coach, I do my best to fulfill both roles. I study the new standards, content limits, and item specifications, explore the online resources,  read the math books in each grade level and subject area to understand the curriculum tools, manage the online math resources available to students, and do my best to provide in class coaching. I assist the math leads with training as needed.

Our fifth grade math lead, Carolyn, was charged with running our Science Council. Although she has full time teaching responsibilities, she embraced the role to lead the team. This year, she and our reading coach, have joined forces and will integrate more informational teaching strategies into the Science Council meetings. We know that it's not ideal, but without a dedicated Science Coach, it's our best solution. We are incredibly grateful that Carolyn has embraced the role and serves to support the other grade level leads as they maintain the momentum of science instruction in our building.

In a turn of events this year, we discovered that it was necessary to create a new council group- Response to Intervention Council.  So, the above diagram will now be altered to include this new council group and the CLC meeting will be replaced with the RtI C meeting.  It's another perfect example of how we don't let obstacles stand in our way, rather we figure out solutions for barriers. We are hopeful that this new RtI Council will lead their grade level teams to ensure that all students are assessed and receiving the appropriate Tier II and Tier III interventions. Our Dean of Students and  Guidance Counselor are co-chairing this council team.  
This is a glimpse at our Distributed Leadership Team flow chart.
 To keep up on our progress this year, stay tuned...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Working on the Work

Strategic and embedded professional development focused on instructional observation, debriefing, and reflection is a significant part of our learning community. WOW (Working on the Work) Days happen on designated Wednesdays by grade level. A group of grade level teachers spend a whole day focused on their own professional learning and reflection while students circulate through our resources (Art, Media, Music, Character Ed, and Physical Education.) This frees the teacher for learning without having to develop sub plans and the young learners eagerly anticipate this special day of enrichment in the fine arts or planned theme-based unit.   It’s a tradition entrenched in our work that gets a huge bang for the buck; one I would recommend for all schools.  

Today was 4th grade WOW Day. In the intermediate school we are departmentalized so the ELA teachers spent the day together while their math/science counterparts did the same.  The ELA lead, Mrs. Chascin kept her students for the first WOW rotation and hosted a Readers’ Workshop demonstration lesson in her classroom. Mrs. Phillips, the Math lead, did the same and hosted a Math Workshop lesson. As their colleagues observed, they took notes, read student work, listened to students articulate their thinking, and reflected on how their instructional practice aligns with the observed lesson. They then participated in a debrief session to share ideas, ask questions, and clarify learning.

After lunch, the ELA learning leaders focused on Achieves 3000 training, a new online resource our district has purchased this year, and the Math/Science learning leaders focused on Interactive Science Journals. The M/S folks did an article study on the topic, synthesized the information, reflected on their current implementation level, shared examples, asked each other relevant questions, and selected their next steps for implementation. In the truest sense of the word, they participated in a PLC to fine tune their classroom instruction.  

I spent my day with the Math/Science team and to say that I was impressed with their collegiality is an understatement. This is the work that ultimately counts; Work that changes classroom practice with real kids in real classrooms with real teachers. There is No Place Like Chets…

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Up Up and Away... It's the Students' First Day!

Monday was the students' first day of school.  Like most first days, I'm sure dinner time conversation centered on their new teacher's name,  friends that were in class with them, exciting things they would be learning this year. But, you know what's really cool?  Chets' munchkins were talking about a hot air balloon ride and their (mostly) brave principal, Mrs. Phillips!

Mrs. KK, our Media Specialist & Mrs. Phillips always conspire to plan a first day WOW for our kids based on our theme. They aim to capture our young learners attention and create a memory maker. They want to WOW them!  Watching the kids' faces and hearing their stories for days, lets me know, that their mission was, again, accomplished!

Mrs. Phillips as her ride is prepared!
I won't lie, I was nervous for her!
This basket tipped back and forth, back and forth.
You can see people pushing, just trying to stablize the basket.
Up Up and Away!
Mrs. Phillips smiles... It's almost over!

Welcome Back "Home" to Meet Your Teachers

I stood on the landing of the second floor overlooking our school's lobby for a few precious minutes during our Orientation. It's a great place to experience the energy of our learning community and see the enthusiasm on the children's faces as they first walk through the doors and absorb the the magical place that has been created for them.  

Ordinarily, I miss this special opportunity to stop and pay close attention. I'm too busy greeting families at the door, pointing students to their new classrooms, and looking up homerooms for students who didn't receive their postcard in the mail. However, on this day, I simply stopped to take the time.

This quick reflection reaffirmed the reason we do this. The reason we go the extra mile. The reason we sometimes work on weekends and stay up late on weeknights. The reason we plan for every detail. We create the learning community we want for our own children and in turn everyone benefits- the students, their families, our faculty. I can already tell that the yellow brick road leads to great heart, courage, and wisdom this school year. There's No Place Like Home...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Welcome Back!

It's the eve of the first day of school and while most folks are home running final errands and making the last preparations, our principal is making her rounds at school. She visits every classroom to experience what the children will feel when they walk through the door and leaves each teacher a hand written welcome back note. She's taught me, through example, that it's the small details of appreciation that mean the most. There's No Place Like Chets... 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cart Girl is Making Her Rounds!

Today, I opened my email to a message from a master teacher who is one of my mentors...

Maybe you’d rather I didn’t remind you about this or maybe you’ve already remembered or maybe you’ve remembered and there's no money, so no response necessary!  But just in case it’s not on your radar- don’t forget the snacks on a wagon.  That is truly one of those “OMG! This place is so different” kind of moments for people who have worked in other places.   I know how busy you both are but the impact of having one of you deliver is HUGE – maybe a chance to make sure everybody has everything they need.  I know it’s crazy down there, and you don’t have time…

I had three immediate thoughts when I opened this message. 1) You're right! I love this tradition and its impact speaks volumes. 2) Holy cow. I forgot to be Cart Girl!! 3) What in the world will we do when our colleague and mentor retires? It's coming too soon. 

She was right when she said, "I know it's crazy down there and you don't have time..." but you know what, she's helped teach me that relationships come first. Taking care of teachers is particularly important especially when they are exhausted from their long days of preparation.  Opening school isn't easy. They deserve to be spoiled, to be told that their hard work is admired and appreciated, and to hear that their rooms are looking great. They deserved my time.
Within the hour the treats and drinks were purchased, the cart was loaded, and Cart Girl had hit the halls. It was so nice to visit the classrooms, be greeted with smiles, and get to chat to the coolest colleagues ever!  It's a tradition that should never be forgotten!  There's No Place Like Home...