Sunday, July 31, 2005

Putting parent support on the line....

When Jenny D. asked us in the blogging world to come up with great ideas for school reform *absent money concerns*, the responses came quickly. And, I think, thoughtfully.(Check out her post and the comments!)

#The ideas about TEACHER QUALITY/SALARY seem right on to me. Teacher excellence IS the key to successful schools and improved student achievement.

#Even though most research does not prove out the value of SMALLER CLASS SIZE, teacher morale is tied to it. That’s reason enough to keep numbers down; it will keep good teachers in the profession.

#Planning time (that is, enough of it, and effective use of it) is critical to improved instruction. Bravo to Jenny D’s contributors who recognized the need for altered teacher schedules that address our need to plan collaboratively. In our ED setting, we need time to plan with both our gen ed colleagues and ED peers. Clearly, a nontraditional schedule of some sort would be necessary to provide these important planning opportunities.

And now my contribution:

Parent Participation Contracts: Some private schools have already adopted these as a way of setting expectations for parent support. These make particular sense for the ED program in which I teach. After all, the children in our classes have exited the general education setting because of their significant behavior problems. It is my feeling that as taxpayers pay out the increased funding for special education, so should they expect a minimum level of parent participation in support of their children’s success.

I am not talking about parent report cards where teachers judge parents based on a list of identified behaviors. That idea seems arbitrary and even silly.

I am thinking about a set of expectations (created by the IEP team, including the parent, at the end of the IEP meeting) that clearly identify what our ED kids’ parents can do to help the child improve/achieve.

For example:

“This IEP team identifies the following PARENT SUPPORT ACTIONS as necessary for the timely completion of the attached IEP goals:

1. On a daily basis, sign and discuss with your child his/her point sheet. Identify areas for celebration, and make a plan together about changing negative, inappropriate behavior.
2. If your doctor has prescribed medication for your child that affects school behavior/achievement, commit to giving that medication as prescribed. Agree to call the school if such medication is not given, and make a plan for providing your child with their needed medication in a timely manner. This may include coming to school during the day, or making arrangements for the school nurse to give the dose in question.
3. As part of the overall plan to address your child’s behavior/emotional needs, commit to some form of therapeutic support. (Family therapy, child’s individual or group therapy, etc.) It’s often too hard for anyone to parent an ED child without outside supports. Take advantage of support offered by our school’s clinical team and county programs.
4. Attend quarterly parent/teacher/clinical staff conferences to discuss and plan for your child’s progress. (One of these quarterly meetings will be the annual IEP meeting and is required by law.)
5. Attend at minimum 2 school functions per year. (Includes Open Houses, Back-to-School Nights, music concerts, PTA meetings, sports competitions, etc.)
6. Provide your child with the assistance he/she needs to complete homework requirements in a timely manner.


Professor JohnL (from EBDblog) has been thinking along the same lines, in response to a BBC report about parents being held accountable for their children’s school behavior. He asks some good, hard questions about such a plan, including which negative behaviors would parents be accountable for, and what would the consequences really be. If such a plan should become more than a sweet daydream (after all, what teacher hasn’t imagined “consequencing” a neglectful parent?), then there has to be some bite in it.
That’s fodder for another post…..

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Taking a second look.....

Okay, I've re-read that last post, and wondered if it qualifies as silly-positive, self congratulatory.....

Ms. Smlph pointed out that sometimes a super positive blog can be annoying. Not that I am paranoid. She wasn't necessarily talking about me. Yes, I am perpetually sunny. Otherwise I'd go f-fing crazy.
You would too if you had my job.

So anyway, the previous post was a good description of our June efforts. The proof will be in how the administration and the staff bring it all together in August.

There is still alot that could go wrong. The kicker/screamer could drag others down. The administration could renig on agreements made in earnest last spring.
We could get so mired in the day to day, we could lose sight of the lofty goals we set for ourselves.

We might start believing the crap some bloggers out there are saying about teachers. That we are just in it for the summers off and decent hours. That we are just a bunch of time card pushers. That we don't have the skill to teach beyond 4th grade. That we are nothing special; it's not a calling to choose teaching.

To those of my teaching/blogger colleagues who are starting their new year in the next few weeks, I tip my hat to you. I'll be spending most of August preparing myself and my classroom for our September start, but you, already in the trenches, will be on my mind. Is that too syrupy-sweet? Can't help it. I'm that kind of girl. Lucky.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The future is looking bright.....

I’m a very lucky girl!

I work with a group of educators (both in the gen ed setting, and with the emotional disabilities teachers) who are interested in creating a program-wide plan for improved student achievement. In that vein, we met at the beginning of June last school year, and came up with a definite list of NEEDS to support those goals. For the most part, we came to this with full-on enthusiasm (well, at least one of us came kicking and screaming, but that’s okay too!). We shared it with our immediate administrator, who appeared to fully support our efforts to get the training, practice and time we need to make it all happen. It definitely makes the arrival of the new school year even more exciting when you can look forward to that kind of support and commitment. Here’s what we decided:

1. We need to improve our skills for creating effective, research based lessons. We identified the support personnel who could help us (reading specialist, technology support, etc.)

2. We need direct instruction and support finding the available online resources already there and designed to improve instruction. Our county has a plethora of online materials, but many of the teachers and IA’s on our team don’t know how to find them.

3. We need training about differentiating instruction effectively. (Who doesn't?)

4. We want to be able to use the Alpha Smarts and computer lab within the first two weeks of school instead of getting hit or miss tech support that leaves us in the lurch.

5. We need 3 visual timers per classroom. (Originally introduced to us by the autism specialists, these timers provide a visual picture of how much time is left in a particular activity – time outs, for example, or time left to complete a lesson. Very handy!)

6. We intend to plan an extended ED team meeting during teacher prep days in August to explore 2 important areas—--First, in an effort to build trust/collegiality, we want to explore our different ways of communicating. Next, as a team,we want extended time to talk about our students, sharing valuable information not easily written down in notes for each other. We value teacher’s dialogue about and for their students.

We didn’t ask for the world, but we identified our needs, and expect to get as much on our list as is reasonable. Frankly, I consider every item on our list necessary and feasible, and am heartened by the verbal support we got from the higher ups.

Like I said, I’m a lucky girl!

Home again...

We are back from an all-too-quick vacation at the Beach. Except for some brief TV watching to check on the latest London bombing attempts, I ignored TV and internet activities. Well, except for a periodic check of my mail. I AM addicted.

I did some good writing though. My novel just might be going somewhere! I even took the plunge and shared the first chapter with my daughter. I've been steadfast about keeping all that I have written absolutely private, so this was a big step, done impulsively, and it was really okay. My next step, I think.... find a writer's group. Does that sound like a good idea?

Countdown to the new school year starts for me at the beginning of August. I have already begun to create some blog-like vehicles on Blackboard for my classroom and for our Professional Learning Community task force. The classroom "blog" is really more of an interactive newsletter, but I think it will support my goal to improve communication with my students' parents. At least for those with computer access.

Finally, I am looking forward to catching up with my blogging's been weird not checking in much on their goings on! Til tomorrow, when I hope to post an intelligent, education oriented piece, have a lovely Monday!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

No wonder they're ... Hot For Teacher!

This little teacher-lady sits atop my sink window, reminding me daily of "my inner disciplinarian"! My brother and his wife gave me this little trinket, and we all had a laugh.

"You don't really see me like that, do you?" I cried out.
Paul and Denise just smiled. And kept smiling.

"Well?" I pressed.

" Your boobs aren't as big," Paul offered sympathetically.

Carnival again...

Check it out! Click here.
And the dedicated guy who puts this all together is on vacation this week, and still he manages to get it out to us in the same pithy manner!

Let's Happy Dance

The Education Wonk reports on a principal who celebrates the hiring of a qualified, kid-centered teacher- WHO IS ALSO MALE- by doing a Happy Dance I nodded hard in agreement when I read his post! Not only could I “feel” the joy of finding a male elementary teacher, I understood the Happy Dance reference.

The chance to do my own version of the Happy Dance is what keeps me going when, by all rights, I should be pulling my hair out. Happy Dance moments are the sustenance of life.

You know what I’m talking about.

Snow days.
Sunshine after 3 days of rain. (We can finally go outside for recess.)
The smell of a newly opened box of crayons can get me going on a good day.

How about the moment you realize the kid who drove you crazy yesterday is absent today? Bliss. (Ahem. Followed immediately, of course, by concern for the child’s health.)

The first time I see my intern handle a child’s tantrum with finesse….

Finding a note from one of my students: “I lov yu Mrs. Rs.”

The last day of school …
The first day of school….

Only 7 weeks to go.
Here’s to the restorative power of the Happy Dance! Boogie on!

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Genius of Harry Potter

Columnist Joel Stein thinks Harry Potter is ONLY for the younger set. He readily admits “reading is hard. I try to avoid it whenever possible.”

And he calls us, Hogwarts fans everywhere, “stupid, stupid, stupid”.

He just doesn’t get it. Well, no wonder. He says he read the first 50 pages of the first book, and he thought it was juvenile. 50 pages?? And suddenly he’s an expert?

For an intelligent analysis of the Harry Potter Phenomenon, see “True Sorcery”. Author Joel Garreau sees Harry as this generation's Dylan. Now that’s genius. He wrote:

“But now it has occurred to me that the prophet of our children's era -- the One who would speak of new realities that elders fail to grasp and offer a moral code in the face of lightning change -- is here already, in tens of millions of books translated into more than 60 languages and carefully tucked away in bedrooms all over the globe: It's Harry Potter, modern Magus, harbinger of today's cultural revolution.”

Moreover, Garreau, in his weekend opinion piece in the Washington Post, sees relevant themes that Joel Klein can’t even fathom:
“Our children have used magic wands all their lives, raising and lowering the volume on the story boxes that they watch, controlling the narratives. It's uncanny, the way they can intuit what technology wants.”

And what lesson could be more important for the youth of today and the adults that guide and love them? Garreau points out the power of the Sorting Hat:

" 'It only put me in Gryffindor,' said Harry in a defeated voice, 'because I asked not to go in Slytherin.' 'Exactly,' said Dumbledore, beaming once more. 'Which makes you very different'" from the supremely evil wizard Voldemort who threatens all of civilization. " 'It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.'

Finally, Garreau writes:
Each day, our children wake up in a world that will have changed by sundown. They take incomprehensible change for granted and have absorbed the wisdom of the author Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And Harry Potter addresses the outstanding question that we and our children encounter as we face such unprecedented change. It is the problem of the moral use of our powers. As Bateson says: "Who teaches what's right is an issue in politics, it's an issue in religion, it's an issue in business."

Joel Klein, the “moral use of our powers” is obviously an issue for all of us, no matter our age. Grownups who appreciate Harry and his adventures understand this, and relish the chance to explore these themes, with our kids or without!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Whose job is it anyway?

Preschoolers expelled. Kindergartners restrained. Classrooms in chaos, and teachers left unable to manage the unruly behavior of a loud and undeniable few. What’s up with all this?

“Parents will do anything for their children. Anything, Miss Manners has observed, short of actual childrearing.” (Check out her column here.)

Hmmm. Interesting idea.

Of course, Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin) is known for her unapologetic, steely opinions. In her column this week, she puts the responsibility for our children’s behavior squarely where it belongs:
“It's not that parents don't realize that their children need to learn manners, morals, and how to refrain from repulsing those in a position to give them degrees, riches and happiness. They simply do not see teaching these as being their job.”

Gone are the days when the kindergarten teacher at my school can concentrate fully on the traditional business of early childhood education. The new, frenzied focus on academics notwithstanding, Mrs. B spends a lot of her time doing what I call “civilizing” her darlings.

How and why we use a napkin.
Take turns talking.
Look up and speak when a grownup greets you.
“You suck!” is not polite, appropriate speech.

Says Miss Manners, “Parents were supposed to teach (their children) respect for authority and not to hit and scratch others. Lapses will occur, but they need to know and accept the principles. If not, serious, one-on-one remedial work needs to be done before any other socialization can be taught -- let alone the beginning academics that parents now want in the curriculum.”

The good news is that most children are hungry for all kinds of learning, and caring teachers can find fun, engaging ways to introduce the niceties of life. But when teachers get no help from parents, when the lessons learned at school are directly discounted at home, discourteous and rude behavior becomes the norm.

And what of the critics who say we teachers shouldn't be involved in matters of the home (which early manners training obviously is)? Throughout the edusphere, schools are accused of becoming a system of social workers, a kind of BIG BROTHER, intent on usurping the rights of parents.

We, all of us teachers and parents, have our roles and responsibilities. Wouldn’t it be great if we could count on each other for follow through?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Prayers for England, London, Our World

Remembering the breath-taking pain of 9-11 as I watch the horror on TV this a.m.

The Londoners seem decidedly calmer and more articulate than we were in NY and DC in their description of the chaos and violence. But the wounded look in their eyes, that loss of a sense of security in our already insecure world.....

I also remember teaching throughout the entire day (9-11), and by edit of the higher ups, we elementary school teachers had to pretend like nothing happened.

At the Blackboard Jungle, the eloquent teacher there updates us on her day with the summer school kids at her school outside of London:

There was an olde worlde, WWII feel to the news at first, as staff huddled in rooms trying to raise news on old fashioned radio sets, or compared notes on how to get through to friends and family working in the affected areas, most of whom had been confined to their offices all morning. We stood in silent circle to hear the prime minister's speech at noon.

Only later do we tell the children that something has happened. The government has advised that parents do not pick up children, that they do not travel, that children stay in schools as long as is practical.

We're safe here, on the south side of the river, but cheap housing and fast transport links into the city mean that many of our 1700 students have parents who work in the affected areas.
I was trying to get LBC radio to route through the electronic whiteboard when a student receptionist wandered in, saw what was on the screen and panicked. His mum works in Trafalgar Square, travels in from London Bridge. It's important to take worries seriously, while still playing down the possibility of disasters. The nearest blast to London Bridge was north of the station, I reassured him, whereas his mum would have to have travelled west. She's probably okay, but best not to ring her yet, while the network is down. Best to wait for her to contact you to tell you she's safe.
State of uncertainty.

None of us quite sure how to teach today, but all of us knowing that we need to keep the safety jacket of routine solid.

Just in case.

Just in case.

Heroic Teaching.... Heroic Teachers

Here's a teacher who is something of a hero to me. In this recent post (and it was published in our local paper in mid June), Erica Jacobs describes a fab end-of-year project she and her teaching partner assigned her seniors AFTER all the testing was done. While lesser teachers might choose to show movies or other mindless activities because all the important state and AP assessments had been completed, this teacher revealed her inner-zippiness (see reference here!)!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Carnival Fun Again

The Education Wonks again offer their brand of big fun! Check out the diverse and stimulating postings.... and don't forget to try your hand at the Ring Toss!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Teaching to the test.... and the ABC's of Teaching with Wonder

Thank you to Jenny D., who inspired this train of thought, and to Susan Ohanian, who provided real relief....

When, during the course of my daily blogging, I come upon the faithful who support the national testing blitz, I find I have less and less to argue about. When educators (like those who comment on Jenny D.'s site) stipulate that the tests to which teachers are teaching must be good ones, then I don't have a problem with teaching to the test. When good teachers use the "new accountability" as a means to reflection and improved instruction, then I can't have a problem with that either.

I do I get riled up when the argument is framed as such: ALL NCLB Testing:GOOD. Teachers who support NCLB: GOOD. Teachers who question NCLB: Complainers/BAD!

This interesting post by Susan Ohanian fits the same pattern, only with the reverse perspective . (I'm as guilty as anyone about generalizations.)

Ohanian says:

"Whenever you see these words connected to education, read carefully and resist much. You are in the presence of what George Orwell called "a catalogue of swindles and perversions."
• ALL students
• skills systematically developed
• measure student learning
• you can't manage what you don't measure
• scientifically-based research
• scientific methods
• proven education methods
• rapid, evidence-driven progress
• clear, honest, bold data
• schools, just like any business
• stronger accountability for results
• reward positive results
• clinical settings/practices
• enriched career advancement structures
• competitive compensation structures
• highly qualified teacher
• preparing students for 21st century/for global economy
• the knowledge supply chain
• education as struggle/battle/war
• education reform
• rigor
• stakeholders

Ask whoever uses the above terms why the following words are missing.

• Autonomy
• Bliss
• Curiosity
• Democracy
• Esteem
• Fun
• Generosity
• Heart
• Imagination
• Joy
• Kindness
• Laughter
• Meaning
• Neighborliness
• Opportunity
• Pride
• Quirkiness
• Respect
• Spirit
• Tolerance
• Uniqueness
• Virtue
• Whimsy
• Xanaduness
• Yumminess
• Zeal

Well, you gotta love the ABC format….. and reading her call to honor teaching for its highest principles feels great!

I'm inspired to rework the list to fit MY classroom!!

Applause, Becoming, Concentration, Differentiation, Energy, Focus, Gusto, Helpfulness, Ingenuity, Justice, KWL (Know/ Want to know/ Learned), Listening, Marvel, Needs met, Ovations, Persistence, Quest, Resilience, Synergy, Thinking, Understanding, Vision, Wellness, X-ploration, Yucks, Zippiness

yep.....zippiness! It may not be measurable, but you know it when you see it!!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Evidenced-based Instruction and the Classroom Teacher

When I read the post How Teachers Fail from favorite blog TEACH EFFECTIVELY, I immediately recognized John Wills Lloyd’s bias against teaching strategies that are not research based. I kind of like this about the professor, and about his blog overall. Reading his postings reminds me to maintain this high standard (“What is the evidence?”) as I plan for my special ed students.

However, Dr. Lloyd’s list seemed a little tongue in cheek; after all, I couldn’t imagine a “teaching expert” of any ilk advancing the use of study carrels as the number two strategy for success. So when I went to the site hosted by Sue Watson, I saw a list of suggestions that could be found in any number of ADHD/LD sources. In fact, I recently gave a colleague some of these same ideas as she tried to manage the behavior of a new, highly ADHD and learning disabled student.

This got me to thinking: must everything a good teacher tries be evidenced-based?

When I teach, I start with an assumption that is fairly universal and steeped in common sense.

There is no one way to teach every child.

Consequently, I vow to try to vary my approach based on what I know about students’ particular needs. For example, just because my school has selected a particular reading series or program, I don’t immediately match a child with what we have on hand. Instead, I meld information from students’ recent formal testing, in-class assessments, and observations, etc. with what I know to be effective evidence-based instructional techniques. I try what I can, based on my expertise and input from other trusted colleagues. If something is not working, I don’t give up altogether or keep hitting my head against the proverbial brick wall. I try something else, most likely another research based strategy. But I admit, I’m willing to try whatever makes good sense to help a child find academic success.

Watson essentially said the same thing in her quick list. “Vary your strategies until you find out what works, persistence will pay off”.

Dr. Lloyd calls this list “pure bologna”!!

Yikes… here is my take on a few of the items on the list.

* I LIKE giving squirmy kids extra opportunities to move around! It feels humane.
*And in my experience, study carrels and isolated desk areas DO provide some kids with a sense of privacy and less stimulation. (This sometimes translates into better educational outcomes, but it often just helps a child and his/her classmates better tolerate being in the same close space.)
*Playing soft music at different times of the day (I do it at sustained silent reading time) has helped some of my students relax, which helps them be ready for the rest of the day’s challenges.

I’ve never seen documented evidence that these classroom modifications make a difference in children’s learning. I haven’t completed my own, formal classroom research project to disprove or support their worth.

Does that make me a bad teacher? NO.

A crummy teacher would continue to do these things even if became evident they were detrimental to the achievement of his/her students. A crummy teacher doesn’t even bother to figure out if these strategies are helpful in his/her particular classroom. Blind acceptance of ideas is the tell tale sign of a poor teacher, not the desire to meet kid’s individual needs.

Maybe what I need to do is be more on the lookout for information about educational research and evidenced-based instructional techniques. Oh yeah…. That’s why I read TEACH EFFECTIVELY in the first place!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Reflecting on that ETS survey...

That ETS survey so often referenced in recent education blogs and columns peaked my interest. At the recommendation of high school English teacher/columnist Erica Jacobs, I perused the power point rather than rely solely on the Executive Summary. Like Jenny D, Chris Correa, and David Broder before me, I found lots to think about.

For example..... Why are we surprised that teachers, parents, and the public at large have differing ideas about education reform? An information gap between lay people and education experts should explain part of this schism. Words like accountability and “real world learning”, both part of the ETS survey, can be understood to mean different things to different people, (despite a brief description provided by the ETS survey teams). Also, as Erica Jacobs says, teachers have actually SEEN those high stakes tests. That should count for something.

I was heartened by the data that shows that the public understands how much of a teacher’s job is affected by sources outside of school. I wonder, though, what the public is willing to do about this. I suspect an even greater gap consists between schools and the public about providing extra services and support to address these “broader problems of society” affecting student achievement.

At my school, that would mean keeping the emotional disabilities program’s full time social worker and psychologist. Right now, these positions are in danger of being axed due to budget concerns. According to the ETS data, the public recognizes our need to overcome family and community problems….but unfortunately, the local budget process just might reveal something else. What will it take to convince the bean counters that on- demand clinical staff is necessary to teach children with complicated, oppressive mental health issues?

Lastly, the disconnect between parents and teachers needs to be addressed, in equal proportion to the focus on teacher quality and accountability. Until we educators can communicate why we feel as we do, others will mistake our views as “soft bigotry” or a function of laziness. Even (one of my faves) Jenny D.-an advocate for education reform and improved student achievement- mistakes teachers’ support for differentiation as a belief that not “all kids can learn”.

There’s a long road ahead, that’s for sure.