Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leaping into Next Year

As we are closing out one school year, we are anxiously awaiting the journey that will begin next year. Part of this focus for next year comes because our principal has recently shared teacher assignments and room changes with staff. As tradition holds, we have many teachers looping, entering new grade levels, or preparing to co-teach for the first time or with a new partner in the upcoming school year. This level of change could bring with it much upheaval and anxiety. However, at Chets, teachers are filled with anticipation and great excitement, because several systems are in place to avoid apprehension and generate enthusiasm. Two specific systems include New Team Working on the Work Days and a Co-Teaching Workshop.

1)New Team WOW Days
The new grade level team meets in the administrative conference room while their kids are rotating through their WOW resources. They gather for 1/2 a day to meet one another, share their professional and personal backgrounds, and rally around their new team mates. This is a forum for discussion, questions, and the penning of grade level non-negotiables. Conversation is based on a wide range of topics from instruction to grade level management including selecting a new team leader and committee members, sharing classroom schedules, getting an overview of grade level homework, discussing common assessments, planning for diagnostic assessment, glancing at content pacing guides, and conversing about standards, portfolios, and word walls. Teachers leave exhilarated and ready to take on this new challenge, because they have fewer questions and can begin planning for their new experience.

2)Co-Teaching Workshop
All learning leaders beginning a co-teach journey or with a new co-teach partner meet with two experienced co-teachers who lead a ½ day workshop on valuable topics. The day begins with an ice breaker to get the teachers acquainted and then transitions into a personal teaching survey, The Kind of Teacher I Am. Teachers reflect and share their survey with their partner. The survey generates dialogue from arrival and departure times to teaching strengths and weaknesses to favorite and least favorite parts of their day. The presenters then share five Co-Teaching Models. Some teachers, at this point, ask questions to clear up misconceptions about what co-teaching is and what co-teaching is not. Next, the presenters share the Chets Creek Co-Teach Non-Negotiables. Teachers must commit to certain criteria to enter this “school marriage” including: find effective compromises, plan together, communicate effectively and respectfully, supervise outside at recess, both teachers attend parent conferences, both teachers write notes to parents etc...To conclude, teachers are given three big topics to discuss: Planning/Communication, Behavior Management, and Classroom Systems. They are left with tools to complete and discuss to learn more about each other. This valuable workshop allows teachers to plan so the transition into co-teaching is an enjoyable one.

Having these two planning sessions in place has diminished most anxiety and gives teachers the security of entering their new experience with a group of caring professionals. I would highly recommend these two practices to allow a smooth transition into a new school year.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Classroom Inventories...Preparation for Next School Year

As the school year swiftly comes to a close, the coaches' job remains as busy as any other month of the year. However, the shift has been made between being a classroom supporter, instructional specialist, learning facilitator, and school leader to being a resource provider. A resource provider, not in the sense of ordering and handing out materials, rather a resource collector to ensure that as next year begins you have the professional resources needed to fully support the teachers' implementation of their content workshops.

In ELA, this is an important process because you are dealing with leveled libraries, genre libraries, genre study kits, vocabulary kits, author studies, touchtone texts, and professional literature that are grade level specific. Add to that, teachers looping between multiple grade levels, and a growing number of classrooms at specific grade levels, and the process of cataloging and distributing materials at the start of a year could be almost impossible. Therefore, the coach must spend time thinking ahead to next year, collecting materials, ordering new materials if necessary, and redistributing resources to ensure a smooth transition.

To start, it is easiest to have a detailed inventory of materials for each grade level. Not simply to list on the inventory, poetry genre study, but to list the teacher guide and all children's literature that goes with it. For example,

Climb Inside a Poem Genre Study
Teacher Manual: Reading and Writing Poetry Across the Year
Teacher Manual: Lessons for Climb Inside a Poem
Big Book for Climb Inside a Poem

Children's Literature for Poetry Genre Study
All the Small Poems and Fourteen More by Valerie Worth
Fireflies in Midnight by Marilyn Singer
Mites to Mastodons: A Book of Animal Poems by Maxine Kumin
Pocket Poems by Bobbi Katz
Ride a Purple Pelican by Jack Prelutsky
Sing to the Sun by Ashley Bryan
Surprises by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Talking Like the Rain by X.J. Kennedy
Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems by Kristine O'Connell George
When a City Leans Against the Sky by Allan A. DeFina
One Hundred Years of Poetry For Children by Michael Harrison
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? by Kenneth Koch
A Family of Poems by Caroline Kennedy
The Giant Book of Poetry CD by William Roetzheim
The Other Way to Listen by Bryd Baylor
Color Me A Rhyme by Jane Yolen

The next step is to hold a Teacher Meeting to pass out the inventory, explain all the items on the inventory, and how items will be cataloged and redistributed. The key to this is being very specific. In second grade, for example, they were asked to box leveled books and genre books, report the number of books respectively, and pass the library on to a specific 2nd grade teacher. With respect to other materials, which are housed in plastic bins with lids, they were asked to inventory and bring them to me. I will collect them, sign off on their inventories, and redistribute items.

With this inventory process in place, the coach can ensure that teachers have the necessary materials and resources to delve into workshop instruction in the year to come, and that items do not walk or get lost from one year to the next. At grade levels where this process has been perfected (K-2 at Chets) the transition from one year to the next happens with ease. In other grade levels here, we are working hard to get this in place.

To see a complete 2nd Grade ELA inventory, click on the widget below.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Duval Elementary Math Teacher of the Year-- Angela Phillips

Yesterday, our own Chets Creek Elementary math extraordinaire, Angela Phillips was honored as the 2008 Duval Elementary Math Teacher of the Year! This award was handed from one deserving Chets Creek math teacher, Rick Pinchot, to another, Angela Phillips! This honor could not have been bestowed on a more humble and deserving teacher. Angela exemplifies the characteristics of a stellar mathematics teacher and coach. She is adored by those who call her leader, by her Chets' colleagues as a whole, by her students and their parents. In fact, the word math is rarely mentioned in our community without Angela's name attached!

Angela has 16 years of teaching experience. She joined the Chets community in 1999 just a year after the doors opened and single handedly redesigned the way in which we work. She aligned standards, instruction, and assessment, wrote diagnostics, implemented common formative assessments, and penned homework sheets for the intermediate grade levels. She implemented the departmentalized design, oversaw the implementation of a new program--Math Investigations, and ran intermediate math professional development. She began the Elementary Math Cohort which went district wide two years ago and became the Academy of Mathematics. She's attended and presented at local, state, and national conferences, and consults nationally.
Angela had the vision and oversaw math implementation at Chets Creek, and for that I am grateful. I've had the privilege of reaping both the personal and professional benefits of having Angela as a colleague. And, our students are young mathematicians because of the foundation Angela has built. Thank you, Angela for all your hard work and dedication, and Congratulations to our 2008 Math Teacher of the Year!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Embracing the Scores

Each year, teachers wait in anticipation for the FCAT Writing, Reading, Math, and Science scores to come in. The teachers are excited to celebrate overall classroom success, but also, and more importantly, individual student's successes. The teachers have poured their hearts and souls all year into maximizing each minute of the day, preparing focused lessons that propel students to be self-directed learners and deep thinkers, and lovingly scaffolding each student to perform at their fullest potential. They want this FCAT success for the child. They want this FCAT success to validate their hard work.

The minute the scores become available on-line a buzz begins to envelope the front office. As word travels from the principal to instructional coaches to teachers, the buzz begins to escalate. The principal jumps into action and begins crunching numbers as teachers begin to swarm her office. Teachers, with their class rosters in hand, take the school print outs and begin filling in their rosters with student scores. In no time, teachers are high fiving each other to celebrate individual student's success, classroom averages are calculated and celebrated, and word travels like wild fire throughout the school that the news is in...and it looks good!

Thursday, the 2008 FCAT Writing scores became available on-line. The office was a buzz as this scene once again unfolded. Fourth grade teachers had 92% of their students score a Level 3.5 or better this year, an increase of 3% over last year's results! As remarkable, not one student scored below a Level 3.0--a first in Chets history! I am so proud of the teachers and the students for these incredible results! I celebrate the fourth grade teachers and students and every teacher that built this student's foundation from Kindergarten up. It takes 180 days every year to prepare the child for top performance. And, once again, I am stand in awe of their success.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Integration Across Content Areas

As a coach, I often get the opportunity to hear teacher's frustrations with never having enough time in the day to get all of the standards and content taught. They complain, and rightfully so, that there are not enough minutes in the day, and generally, the areas slighted include Social Studies and Science. These conscientious hardworking teachers know the importance of Science and Social Studies, but when something has to give, they prioritize reading, writing, and math.

Our conversation continues to turn to the integration of subjects to maximize time and get more bang for our buck. We know in theory this is the way to go, however implementation has been more difficult to achieve. In the primary grades this is easier because the teacher has the students all day and teaches all subjects. They can grapple with the placement of content on the pacing guide and tend to integrate more. In the intermediate school, Grades 2-5 at Chets, this is more difficult, because we are departmentalized. One teacher teaches only Math/Science/Social Studies and the other teacher is the ELA teacher covering Reading, Writing, Skills Block, and Spelling. Getting the two teachers to plan together in order to achieve integration is ideal, but many times with time constraints and pacing guide constraints, simply doesn't happen.

However, recently, I've heard many teachers recommit to make integration a priority. Most of the buzz is coming from our co-teach classrooms where two teachers teach together all day long. This is giving teachers the opportunity to see where the content areas logically fit together.

Yesterday, I saw a perfect example of this integration. One of the 4th grade co-teachers who is identified as the ELA lead hosted the 4th grade ELA WOW demo. The other three 4th grade ELA teachers met in her classroom for a one hour Writers' Workshop demonstration lesson on report writing. Cheryl's students, in a previous lesson, had selected a report topic based off their 4th grade social studies standards. With a Florida History topic in hand, this particular mini-lesson taught them to identify the audience of their report (their peers), survey their classmates to generate ten questions their peers had about their topic, and begin to research answers to the questions. The teacher perfectly modeled this survey strategy to her students and gave them active engagement time to practice before their work period. Students were engaged and focused on this task as they diligently took their survey during work period. In closing session, topics and questions were shared as a whole group. The teachers follow-up lesson will focus on identifying the main idea questions based off the survey and supporting questions, so students can generate their subheadings. Report writing on a Social Studies topic is clearly underway, and being able to administer a survey is a fourth grade math standard to boot! Certainly, integration at its finest!

My only regret as I looked around Cheryl's room was the absence of the Math/Science/Social Studies counterpart teachers. At the time we were watching the demo they had set off to cover content in their subject area. This was disappointing to me because at that moment ELA teachers were scribbling down notes, outlining their next steps for implementation of the same lesson, and most importantly, were clearly excited about Social Studies. I know their counterparts would have been totally over-the-top to see the excitement that was generated. And, in their defense, I'm sure no one even thought to invite them to the demo. Clearly, a missed opportunity, by no one's fault. Maybe, as integration becomes more prevalent, all team members will be present and can get excited about integration together.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Do They Know How Good I've Got It?

Have you ever felt guilty having a career as an instructional coach? Not slightly guilty, but absolutely gut wrenchingly guilty? Like you hit the jackpot and have this well kept secret that those around you can’t see? I can honestly say, I feel this way on so many occassions.

You see, it is my job to keep a collective pulse of the school’s curriculum and instruction, and the best way to do that is to meander in and out of every classroom in the building. Watching quality instruction from cutting edge teachers, collaborating collectively, and building goals to take us further in our learning journey! Can you believe they allow me to collect a pay check?

To give you entry into my world, this blog post hosts one of the fourteen lessons I observed last week. The fourth grade lesson taped during Writers' Workshop perfectly displays the four part architecture of a mini-lesson, allows you to observe students during work period, and highlights a closing session where writing and ideas are shared. These two extremely talented co-teachers are not putting on a show. This is in fact what they do every single day. When I observe in their classroom this is evident in their teaching charts that hang from their walls,in the student writing journals that are packed with writing ideas and drafts from a multitude of genres, and from the student work displayed in portfolios. This is most evident, too, because when you talk to kids you understand how deeply they think.

Honestly, most days when I get in my car to make my journey home I wonder, "Do they know how good I've got it?"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reflect. Revise. Recommit.

You can always tell when the school year is coming to an end. Not only because the kids remind you on a daily basis, "Only 20 days left," but also because the principal hands you your end of the year packet. The packet includes a detailed schedule of end of the year events, parent letters, media inventories, furniture inventories, promotion cards, portfolio contents, student tracking sheets, cum folder reviews, and coaches and principals surveys. An entire package to keep you organized and on track, to remind you that you only have a few weeks left to complete all your tasks, and to help you take a few critical moments to reflect and give feedback.

To be honest, it is one of my favorite times. The time to reflect on my own year of coaching and ask three questions:
O What did I do well this year?
O What did I not do well?
O What am I going to change for next year?

My self-reflection is only part of this process. The coaches' and Principal's surveys the teachers are asked to respond to are another essential tool. The coaches' survey includes some questions that are meant to be answered by circling-- disagree, somewhat disagree, somewhat agree, agree, and n/a. Questions include:

O Teacher Meeting topics were relevant and helped improve student achievement.
O Coach was knowledgeable and always prepared for Teacher Meetings.
O Team members were respectful and professional during meetings.
O I felt my voice was heard and respected at meetings.
O My coach was available & helpful when I needed to discuss issues or concerns.
Other, more open ended questions, on the coaches' survey include:

O Name one specific topic from a teacher meeting or WOW Day that changes your instructional practice.
O Name one specific thing you took from a demonstration lesson which enhanced your classroom practice.
O Name one thing you learned from reading a colleagues' bulletin board.
O What is one topic you'd like to see covered in Teacher Meetings next year?
O Were you ever asked to do a demo lesson for a visitor group? If yes, what did you learn from the experience? Would you do it again?
O Did you volunteer to do a videos tram to the Schultz Center this year? What did you learn from the experience? If not, are you willing?
O Are you interest in serving as a literacy or math coach?
When I've reflected on my own, gotten feedback from the teachers, and had countless conversations with my other coaching colleagues, I feel a sense of completeness that allows me to forge ahead to the upcoming year. To reflect, to revise, and to recommit. I can establish new goals.

The other reflection tool, the Principal's survey, is published for all staff by the principal and used to allow all to reflect on the year and grow as a learning community. Questions on the Principal's survey include:

O I think the best thing that happened at CCE this year was:
O The best thing I did in my class/position this year was:
O Next year, my number one objective will be:
O An idea I would like to see developed for next year is:
O Professional Development training and/or experiences I would like to have:
O If I could throw one dart (criticism) and give one laurel (praise) within the school for this year it would be:
O Mrs. Phillips, I need you to:
O Ms. Perry, I need you to:
O Mrs. Shall, I need you to:
How fortunate I am to work in a community where we reflect, we refocus, we revise, and we recommit to making the new year the best ever!