Sunday, August 31, 2008

Do You Believe In Me?

Most teachers begin school each year with some form of a motivational speech usually from the principal. Teachers in Dallas last week started in a similar fashion except their motivation came from a charismatic student, Dalton Sherman. This eight minute video is worth watching as he says, "I believe in me!" "I can do anything! Be anything! Create anything! Dream anything! Become anything! " and asks, "Do you believe in me?" "Do you believe in my classmates?" "Do you believe in your colleagues?" "Do you believe in yourself?" " Do you believe in my goals?" His message was clear and articulate. He expects every teacher to help every student reach their fullest potential and to prepare every single student for college or the workplace. He urges teachers not to give up, to trust their fellow colleagues, and to lean on each other when times get tough.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Grade 2 Snapshot

I took a focus walk of Second Grade on Thursday. I wasn't focused on any one thing (sometimes I am), rather this snapshot was simply to see how smoothly students and teachers had settled into a new year.

My first impression was a good one. They have settled in quite well, rituals and routines were getting firmly established, and classroom instruction had begun. The unannounced snapshot gave me a glimpse across content areas with lessons in technology, Readers' Workshop, Writers' Workshop, Math Workshop, and Science Workshop.

I visited a co-teach classroom where students were watching a video clip from '>You Tube which sang all of the countries in the world. Next, the teachers displayed their classroom blog on the board, read the blog with the students, and then read the comments. They modeled for students how to add a comment to the blog. Students were soaking in their every word. These students will now have a line of interactive communication with their teachers even when they are not in the classroom.

Next, I visited the English Language Arts rooms. (We are departmentalized from 2nd-5th grade so some teachers teach ELA and some Math/Science/Social Studies.) In one room, I found students actively involved in the active involvement part of their mini-lesson. Students were practicing the habits of a good listener. The teacher was facilitating instruction by listening in on the partners. This lesson is one of our districts 12 anchor lessons that serves as a foundation for setting up a successful Readers' Workshop structure for the year.

In two other rooms, I found students in the Work Period part of the Readers' Workshop. Students were in their book nooks with their Books in a Bag reading, were selecting new books from their leveled libraries, or were diligently adding a text to their book log that they had just finished. The teachers were monitoring the classroom to be sure that students were following the rituals and routines of the Work Period. Teachers need to make sure that students are building their independence and reading stamina. This is critically important, because on my next visit, during student work period, teachers will be administering DRA 2's to the students. After that, they will be using the DRA 2 data and diagnostic data to run guided reading and strategy groups. In order for the teacher to be doing the student conferring or small group lesson, the other students in the classroom will have to be actively reading and not interrupt the teacher.

Writers' Workshop was in full swing in another classroom as students diligently created stories in their sourcebooks while the teacher conferred with students. Evident to me was the students' confidence and writing fluency. Kudos to the Kindergarten and First Grade teachers who had students writing everyday and who held high expectations for the writing product. The 2nd Grade teachers have picked up where you left off. :)

In several other rooms, Math Workshop was off to a great start. Students were working on creating Combinations of 10 books as teachers encouraged and conferred with students. It was evident that every math teacher was on the same page and students in each class were working toward the same standards. Some students were working on putting a string of three numbers together to make 10 (5+3+2) while others were working on putting five numbers together to make 10 (1+1+2+3+3). These number strings will be used to construct a complete Combinations of 10 book. I can't wait until my next visit to see the completed book and to ask students what they learned about number strings.
The last classroom stop was into a Science class. The students were learning characteristics of specific animals including the plants they ate. The students received challenging riddles that they were charged to solve by matching them with the correct animal. This activity not only focused on science but also reading. The riddles had to be read and understood before the matching could take place.
In summary, I not only noticed that things were well underway in 2nd Grade, but also that this group of teachers has bonded as a team. Outside each of their classrooms is a sign hanging with their name, their hallways are prepared for student work, the artifacts in their rooms are similar, and their instruction is well aligned.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Getting Started in Reading and Writing

It is the first week of school, we made it through Day 1 and Day 2 of 180 with ease. However, Day 3, 4, and 5 came with the disruption of Tropical Storm Fay. So after three looonnnggg wind howling weather days full of ground saturating rain and tornadic activity and our two day weekend, we'll start anew on Monday.

Next week--which we may as well call the first week--will bring with it the review of rituals and routines, establishment of the workshop, and diagnostic assessment.

In Writing, teachers' lessons will focus on helping students learn to generate and tell stories, launch sourcebooks, observe their world, organize their work, confer, think as writers, improve writing through reflecting on their work, and studying published authors' work.

In Reading, teachers' lessons will focus on student behaviors during read aloud and shared reading, establishing good reading habits, selecting books in various genres, effective use of individual book bags, understanding and using reading logs for the Million Word Campaign, using Readers' Response Journals, talking about books productively with a partner, establishing independence during work time, and habits of good listeners.

There are 12 anchor lessons in Writing and in Reading that will collectively establish the Writers' and Readers' Workshop over the coming weeks. These are not one time lessons to be taught and then forgotten, rather lessons which establish rituals and routines that will be carried throughout the year. These important anchor lessons build the foundation for the implementation of a successful workshop structure.

In addition, while teaching the 12 anchor lessons in Reading and Writing, teachers will be administering Reading diagnostics. There is a reading assessment written at each grade level which assesses the end of year standards for that respective grade level. The assessment is given three times a year--in the beginning, at mid-year, and at the end of the year. This is the same assessment each time and is meant to track student progress on their mastery of the standards. Students' results are organized by the teacher on individual student profiles and on class EXCEL Spreadsheets. Teachers can sort and report the data to plan prescriptively for whole group, small group, and individualized instruction. Diagnostic assessment and prescriptive instruction is the cornerstone of our work at Chets Creek.

Furthermore, teachers collect a writing sample and assess the students' work using rubrics from Using Rubrics to Improve Student Writing. Collecting student writing samples throughout the year, assessing the work based on the elements of each standard, and creating a portfolio (soon to be electronic, I hope) allows us to beautifully track students' progress. In the end, it is absolutely astonishing to compare beginning of the year and end of the year work because a student's writing gets so much more elaborate.

So, while Tropical Storm Fay has postponed the establishment of ritual and routines, the teaching of the 12 anchor lessons, and diagnostic testing--(I'm sure to the delight of some students who I know found a delightful way to pass their time)--never fear, for as Monday draws closer, we will once again roll up our sleeves and get back to work. And, I trust that although they might not be the exact 180 days we planned on, there will definitely still be 180 of them!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Adventure Begins...Day 1 of 180!

Approximately 1,250 students began this year’s adventure with us today. The decorated lobby was filled with live Caribbean music provided by Tropico to greet students as they returned for this year’s Virtual Learning Adventure… Around the World in 180 Days. Tour guides were stationed around the lobby, dining room, front office, and hallways to assist students in getting to class and to encourage parents (some rather teary eyed) to lovingly leave their precious packages in our care. The Media Team hosted a Boo Hoo Breakfast for Kindergarten parents. Most returning CCE students eagerly greeted classmates and met new friends. Students found their classrooms and settled into their seats for our closed circuit T.V. greeting by Principal, Susan T. Phillips.

We continued our tradition with our one WOW factor for the first day based on our theme. Bruce Junek took students on a virtual tour of his 14,000 mile 22 country bicycle tour around the world! His slideshow and conversation with students was fascinating. His story shared captivating information on animals he and his wife encountered, landmarks they visited, activities they participated in, foods they ate, and people they met. Students traveled virtually through pictures of Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Bali, Java, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, India, Egypt, Jerusalem, Athens, Austria, and Switzerland.
The students were mesmerized by the sheep farmer with dogs, Pepsi and Cola, by the kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras, and albino peacock, by the monkeys grooming—and the one that came from nowhere to try to groom Tass’ hair, by the rhinos, the penguins, and one man’s pet elephant! There were oows and ahhs when he displayed the magnificent volcanoes and rainforests they hiked. The handmade clothing, gorgeous headdresses, along with traditional attire taught students about the differences in cultures. Bruce and Tass' two year adventure was the highlight of many student’s day and I'm sure the topic of conversation around the kitchen table this evening! And, I’m quite certain that most of them shared that Bruce and Tass even tried fried grasshopper on their journey!
Teachers then diligently went over rituals and routines, read stories, and some classrooms even made their own boomerangs and kangaroos.

I can't think of a more perfect way to celebrate Day 1 of our own 180 Day Adventure!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What Does An Instructional Coach Do In Pre-planning?

You may be wondering…

As teachers are unpacking their rooms, organizing their classroom libraries and math manipulatives, putting up their bulletin boards, getting ready for orientation, and making first week lesson plans…what is an instructional coach doing?

Well, in the pre-planning phase, my most crucial role is to be a Resource Provider and Teacher Supporter. Sure, I have plenty of other jobs related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and I do balance getting these jobs started, but the majority must wait. In serving the teachers, I must come each day to fulfill their needs and equip them with what they need to get a successful start with students. Much of the time this correlates to grunt work. :)

This year, our student enrollment has increased and three new classrooms have been added. That means three new sets of “stuff” including classroom libraries. No coach wants a teacher beginning the new year feeling like they don’t have the necessary material to provide quality instruction. Therefore, I’ve been coding leveled and genre books, delivering books to classrooms, checking teacher manuals out from the book room, ordering additional student materials from the district, and attending Orientations as a support. Furthermore, I've attended a workshop at the district to learn about the new reading curriculum and plan for the implementation process. I’ve also met with 2nd and 4th Grade ELA teachers to answer their questions about pacing guides, skills block instruction, and assist them in planning for reading and writing implementation. All of this has come at the request of teachers. Their needs are my priority.

I try to remember, when coaching teachers in the early weeks, they generally come on a need to know basis. I keep myself open to their needs, roll up my sleeves for some grunt work to save them time, provide them with all necessary materials, and give them space to get up and running. Once they do, they will be ready to welcome me into their classrooms, and the feedback loop will begin.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another Exciting Journey Begins

Day 1 of pre-planning. When other teachers are quietly reopening their doors, organizing their books, straightening their rows, and printing their rosters, we at the Creek are celebrating. Celebrating the arrival of a new adventure, the camaraderie of new team members, and embracing this year's focus on specific data driven expectations. We are enjoying the beginning of this year--The Virtual Learning Journey, Around the World in 180 Days.

Teachers arrived at 0800 hours in full skit garb to the front lobby of the school and after playing Name That Flag (won by the 5th grade team), teachers boarded buses to our Professional Learning Center--The Schultz Center. As we were ushered into Schultz, we could clearly see the focus for today's celebration would be centered on technology. Not only because teachers each had a laptop for use, but because the big screen was up and running, and no time was wasted as Melanie Holtsman introduced our guest speaker, International Educator Jeff Utecht. Jeff graciously agreed to kick off our morning via Skype from across our globe in Manila! Jeff introduced himself using Google Earth to share where he grew up and the locations across our world where he's taught. How incredible to be able to drop in on his exact locations! He explained that in this time of global change the world is so small. We have to figure out what implications that has on education. He encouraged our staff to take a risk. Collaboratively try something new. And, introduced us to several websites, wikis, and blogs to help make that happen. He encouraged teachers to have students publish to the web so students would have a public forum, a global voice. He emphasised the importance of sharing their learning with the world. Jeff left us with one last question... "How are you going to use this year to connect kids near and far?"

Our Principal, Susan Phillips, then presented on Web 2.0 and School 2.0. She reiterated that the web has changed. It has gone from software based to web based from individual to collaborative from offline to online from costly to free and from copyrighted to shared. We, as educators, must move swiftly as this shift happens in order to reach and engage all kids. We must focus on project based learning that is rich, real, and relevant. We must have engagement that precedes the content. We must encourage risk taking, ask for help, search for answers. We must embrace the web as participatory, and have students as designers for learning. To be successful we can no longer be digital immigrants teaching to digital natives.

Next, on the agenda, was some fun! Team Introductions--my favorite! Let me tell you, each year, I keep thinking the K-5 and resource teams couldn't possibly outdo themselves from the year before, but low and behold, they do! Our team skits began--Some teams danced, some sang, some challenged each other in a game show, no matter what they did, they were all hysterical! And, I mean, we laughed together until we cried! Though any of these teams could have easily been named the Best Overall Skit, the award this year was earned by the Second Grade team. And, Best Dressed went to the Kindergarten Team. I'm sure each member of these teams enjoyed their $5 and $10 blockbuster gift cards!

Then came New Teacher Introductions and New Teacher Induction. This year's task was for them to make a flag and create an anthem (in 10 minutes I might add while the rest of us enjoyed a break.) They presented to the audience and were then inducted with a New Tour Guide Oath. Their reward a pocket protector and hand held world, and of course the respect of their peers!

After a delicious lunch, fitting for the occasion because there was food from each continent, our next guest speaker, Duval CTO, Terri Stahlman, took the podium. She delved further into Web 2.0 sharing new tools and features, and shared statistics with us to allow us to know thy customer. She encouraged us as a school to focus on community collaboration, collective intelligence, collaborative learning, self-directed students, project driven instruction, and to use technology as an accelerator. Her enthusiasm and passion to move student achievement forward was palpable.

Next, Susan shared our data story and set forth this year's expectations. We will use Technology for Learning to expand our boundaries, Focus on Targeting Strategy Groups in order to reteach, repair, and reflect on student's next steps, Use Differentiated Instruction to diagnose, plan, and adjust with internal safety nets and ESOL support, and we will Broaden Cultural Awareness. Having clear expectations articulated from the principal allows us all to embrace our principal's expectations for the year ahead.

More fun and team building came in the form of the activity, Where in the World is.... The winner, again, 5th grade. Gift cards patted these geography minded teachers on the back!

Moving on, Susan introduced our bracelet disguished Flash Drives eliminating all paper and focused on the distribution of essential electronic documents. Teachers electronically received everything from resource and lunch schedules, tornado drill directions, district and school scedules, to theme focused fonts and clip art! Those that knew how to use flash drives aided those who did not and we were well on our way to learning together. Furthermore, we explored Riverdeep, our district's electronic access to standards, Learning Schedules, and assessment. Though this was a down and dirty introduction, Susan assured teachers of more training and information to come.

We could all feel the next giveaway coming! Names were pulled and seven lucky recipients took away a World Puzzle for their classrooms.

The wide world of wikis, and a initiative with Chet the Bear to travel the world in 180 Days followed. 10 Chet the Bears found lovely homes with teachers from K-5. But the fun wasn't quite finished... Susan still had a THE BIG GIVEWAY. Throughout the day each teacher had placed their name in a drawing for an IPOD, Flip Video, Headphones, Digital Camera, Web Cam, and a Wii!! A few very lucky teachers left with big smiles and new techie tools to enhance their students' learning!

To conclude, Susan had each teacher visit her blog and leave a comment. She reemphasised that "We are going to go beyond the borders of our classrooms and cross the digital divide into the future - together."

What a grand opening day! I can't wait for the students to embark on this Virtual Learning Adventure--Around the World in 180 Days!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wrapping Up The Lazy Days of Summer

You know the restful lazy days of summer are rapidly winding down when you only have one week left before you are once again hitting the grind stone. There have been several occasions this summer that a blog post has certainly been warranted, but this summer, unlike some others in the past, I just never got around to penning my thoughts. I would say, “What a shame!” but feel that my own two boys are quite content that I gave them some undivided attention over the past two months. However, heading into this week—the last week—before setting off on another 180 Days of Adventure, I feel compelled to catch up a bit on summer happenings and start the year fresh.

The Setting the Standard ning has continued to grow with an online community of 248 educators. Teachers continue to dialogue, add pictures, and post videos to share ideas and give visitors a peek into their learning community. Thanks to our hostess Melanie Holtsman this site allows for veteran and newcomers a venue for on-line professional dialogue and development. Jenny Nash has even been documenting the “unpacking” of her new classroom as she prepares to embark on her new adventure. Be sure to check out this ning for a glimpse inside a professional learning community. I know you'll love what you find!

The newcomers to Chets have been through Summer Orientation. Though, in the past, this orientation has consisted of three days of training dedicated to Chets’ history, traditions and rituals & routines, along with Reading, Writing, Math, and Science Workshop training, this year it was condensed to only one day. Why? Because all of our newcomers come with experience already under their belt!! A big bonus for our Principal and coaches! As in year's past, the Summer Orientation wrapped with a party at the principal’s home for a meet and greet with newbies, mentors, and the school’s leadership team. This casual gathering embraces our new learning leaders and relieves pre-planning pressure. What a grand idea!

Also, worthy of mention is a new blog started by dayle timmons, as an on-line resource for newcomers. This blog will give newbies a glance into events before they come so they can adequately prepare for each new adventure. Although, this blog was designed for newcomers, it has also proven to be an excellent tool for veterans, because dayle began by introducing our new hires. What a great way for all to be able to put a name and face to our new family members, and be able to greet them appropriately in the first few days of school. Thanks, dayle!

The ELA lead team met to discuss the implementation of a new Reading series and share the information they’ve gathered collectively. So far, we know that the district has only released learning schedules for the 1st 9 weeks and we are anxiously awaiting the other three nine weeks along with the assessment books so we can make informed decisions about our already existing best practices. Though, it is too early to see the global picture, it was time well spent to ask questions and seek answers.

On Thursday, just days before we embark on our new journey, there will be a Leadership Retreat lead by Principal Phillips to prepare us for upcoming events. This retreat is often a time of reflection and decision making for the upcoming school year. The team always looks forward to this day of preparation and fellowship.

I know some learning leaders have begun planning, unpacking, and organizing their classrooms. I’ve even heard through the grapevine that grade level meetings are in full swing to plan costumes and skits for our first day. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds—the first day is always my favorite. Good luck to each team as they set off to clinch this year’s prize!

I'm off to absorb a few more rays, read a couple more fiction titles, and enjoy the company of my family. I'll see you all next week as we begin our Virtual Learning Journey--Around the World in 180 Days!