Failure- It’s a Good Thing?

Failure- It’s a Good Thing?

I recently reflected and blogged on my first few weeks as an administrator and one of my key points was the fact that I will make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but each person has the choice to let the mistake/failure define who they are or to learn and grow from the experience.

I had the opportunity to participate in a breakout session at the AAEA summer conference and Dr. Gotcher asked the audience to share what failure meant to them. One person shared “Failure is only the next opportunity to succeed.”

This really hit home for me. As we go through this school year, trying to navigate COVID-19, I know there will be moments of failure. I want to choose to view each of those moments as just creating opportunities for success.

Now, saying that you will take your failures and turn them into opportunities is easier said that done. At least that is my personal experience. For this school year I am going to do these follow steps to try and make failures opportunities for success.

Community

Going at this career alone is never a good idea. Find your person that you can process through hard times and help keep perspective on the bigger picture.

Student Focused Vision

When you experience a failure, determine if what you were trying to do would be best for students. If it failed because it ultimately wasn’t what was best for students then walk away. If you still believe it is what is best for students then keep trying and reach out to those around you that can support your vision. As long as we keep our focus on what is best for students we can always turn opportunities into success.

Grace

I have to be willing to give myself grace. I have heard over and over the phrase “Grace before Grades”, but I think we can just say “Grace first”. Everyone will be going through a challenging time whether it is a student juggling school, with remote learning with siblings, while working a full time job to support their family; or parents who are staying up late at night after working all day to try and help their students with homework because their child is having a hard time adjusting to school again; or teachers who are so excited to see and love on their students but are also scared about their health and the health of their families. Grace must come into play for all parts of education this year.

I believe if I filter all of my experiences and reflections through these three steps then I will be able to take my failures and turn them into successes.


A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Managing Stress Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Managing Stress Edition

Today hit me hard.

I woke up, worked out, made my cup of coffee, got the kids up, made our breakfast, got dressed, and then walked 15 steps to my desk.

Real talk, as I sat there waiting for my computer to start up, I felt like crying.

I am an extrovert. Enneagram, I am a 7- the Adventurer. I love being an educator because I get my energy being with people and my passion is inspiring the next generation of movers and shakers of the world. Social distancing and isolation is a nightmare to me, but I am doing it. I know this is what is needed to help flatten the curve and to literally save lives.

As I started getting into my groove working I thought about the fact I have 30+ years of life experiences to prepare me for this; and yet, I am struggling big time! So how on earth are my 11-15 year old students handling life right now?!

Today led me to writing the next edition in “A Student Guide to Learning from Home- Managing Stress”. I want to give students tools to not only be successful academically during this time, but also stay emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy as well.

Please feel free to share any of the graphics I create and you can find my personal email on my contact page if you have questions or ideas. We are all in this together!


Educator’s Lifesaving Tip 3: Organization

Educator’s Lifesaving Tip 3: Organization

My original post was going to go something like, “Top 5 tips for being organized as an educator…” I planned this about 2 months ago. A lot has changed in 2 months.

Uncharted Territory

Overnight, teachers across the world were asked to change their delivery of instruction to digital learning. Every student was asked to begin a whole new level of self monitoring and pacing to complete weeks worth of education digitally. This is not even addressing those who do not have consistent access to internet, both teachers and students. Students who became full time babysitters while parents continued to work or teachers who began working from home while also having children of their own at home with them. Or the millions of people who may be scared as they watched people around them struggling with COVID-19.

What teachers have been asked to do is unprecedented.

As I sat down at my computer to write I told my husband I did not know if I wanted to write about digital learning. Yes, that is what people are searching for right now, but a large part of me is desperately missing normalcy. He suggested I got and search for inspiration; looking for a way to find normalcy in my career and yet staying relevant with what people are needing. So, naturally, I got on social media and this is what I saw:

“Let them sleep in”

“No need to get dressed for the day”

“Use screen time so you can get your things done.”

“Children should do no more than 2 hours of school a day while at home.”

“I can’t believe my child had an assignment for EVERY CLASS!”

And then there are the jokes that gave me a good laugh:

“There are parents all over America that are just realizing the teacher is NOT the problem.”

“Day 1 of homeschooling- trying to figure out how to get this kid transferred out of my class.”

“All these kids learning Common Core math, bout to learn how to “carry the one” from their new homeschool teacher.”

This last week has been a whirlwind and it is not over.

Without knowing exactly how long we will be doing digital learning, teachers have to plan for the worst, the rest of the school year, and hope for the best. Not only do teachers have to figure out how to continue to deliver instruction digitally and meeting the needs of all students with a variety of different circumstances, we also have to provide adequate resources to working parents.

In my household, I have a 9 year old daughter and a 12 year old son who have the privilege of spending A LOT of the foreseeable future with me. We are also fortunate that my husband is a blog writer and has mastered the art of working from home.

After day 1 he told me I would not survive. I woke up and immediately started working in the clothes I had slept in, I took lunch around 2:00pm and finished working after 7:00 that night. I am an extroverted work-aholic and I needed help. He sat me down and we came up with a game plan for me while working at home.

From this conversations my blog post has changed to “How to Stay Organized While Teaching From Home”

Tip 1: Morning Routine

He suggested I treat my mornings like any other morning.

  1. 30 Minute Workout
  2. Shower
  3. Wake Kids Up
  4. Breakfast/Coffee
  5. Look Over Today’s Schedule
  6. Brush Teeth
  7. Dress
  8. Leave the House

So besides step 8, I should try and follow the same routine (I definitely do not spend the same amount of time on step 7 as I did before). I following my routine the rest of the week and I can tell you from personal experience, I felt so much better having my mornings back.

Tip 2: Transitions

Transitions are an essential part of planning your day. How will you transition from activity to the next? What protocols do you have in place to help transitioning from PE back to the classroom? But now we are asking “How will I transition from one lesson planning, digital tool learning, answering emails to the next task?”

Schedule. Schedule. Schedule.

I even did this for the children. Each day my children have 1 hour for Literacy and 1 hour for Math. If they finish their assignment for the day in 30 minutes then they have to continue that topic for the remainder of the time. If it is Literacy they can read or do IXL for the rest of the time. For Math I have practice sheets like multiplication they can do or Prodigy/IXL.

I am doing the same. If I had an hour to answer emails or contact parents and I finish up after 45 minutes, I will spend the next 15 minutes learning about new tools and resources to make communication more beneficial during this time.

**My ESL people- currently learning about Talking Points. As I learning more I will let everyone know!

Create a schedule for the family and follow it. This will keep everyone sane!

Tip 3: Food

Social media is lit up with funny memes about gaining weight during this time and I completely understand. I want to snack. All. Day. Long. Even though I know I do not need to.

Again, think about being at school/work . When do you normally eat in those settings? Make it a part of your schedule to only eat during those time. This will help everyone in the house keep with some normalcy during otherwise potential chaos.

Tip 4: Work Space

This one may be more difficult if your house is not set up with an office. My house is not, but we did make the desk in the living my personal working area.

Having this specific space helps me feel like walking into my office. I have left my personal life at the door and I have stepped into my educator role. As I stated earlier, transitions are big and we have to have a way to distinguish when we are working and when we are home. When I am sitting at the desk everyone in this house knows I am working. When it is time for me to “leave work” I closed up my work station, put my books and computer away, and leave my desk. I am now home for the evening.

Tip 5: Personal Care

This last one may be the most important. As always, an educator can only be their best for students if we are taking care of ourselves. This still applies. Organize and establish times to take care of yourself. Here are a list of ways you can do this.

  • Coffee To-Go
  • Go on a Walk
  • Order Food To-Go
  • Online Therapy Sessions
  • Get a Good Night of Sleep
  • Read a Book- not for work
  • Do a Puzzle
  • Follow the Above Recommendations
    • Workspace
    • Normal Eating Time
    • Schedule- you and children
    • Routine
  • Be Easy on Yourself- we are all learning and we will all make mistakes. Guess what, it’s okay.

The one take away I want anyone who is reading this is- the more organized you are will not only make the transition to digital learning easier, but it will help establish positive habits that will carry over into every day work life. Schedules and routines are your best friends. Use them wisely.


The Goldilocks Zone

The Goldilocks Zone

In science, the Goldilocks zone refers to an area that is just perfect for human life to inhabit. This means the distance from the closes star is the perfect distance compared to the size of the star so that human life form can be supported. The temperature is not too hot or too cold. In these zones water can exist. There is not a set distance from any star. It depends on the type of the star, how large and strong the star is, and the rotations of planets around the star will shape the Goldilocks zone.

I could not help as my husband was describing this phenomenon to me that it sounded a whole lot like the type of environment we try to create in the classroom. Teachers are trying find the Goldilocks zone for each of their students. The issue that we come across is that teachers are the star in the classroom and are trying to create Goldilocks zones for students that are in varying distances from the star. The teacher (star) is to provide the instructional pedagogy and practices for each student in the room. Teachers have personalities and ways that they teach best. Yet, we ask teachers to be able to change and adapt to the unique needs of every student in the classroom at all times. So the million dollar question is; how do we find the Goldilocks zone for all students?

Learning Targets

Finding the Goldilocks zone requires us to first define exactly what the zone is . For scientist the Goldilocks Zone is a distance from the star that is habitability by humans and a place that water can exist. This is the same with students; developing essential learning targets for each unit that are written in student friendly terms. These learning targets should be developed from the content curriculum and decided on by the collaboration team and vertical alignment. In 7th grade math the team may decide as a whole that every student needs to master scientific notation and make this a learning target. If this collaboration team also meets with 8th and 9th grade math teams they will either determine this is an appropriate learning target or is not necessarily a requirement for 7th graders have mastered to have future success. From there the team can decide if it should be a requirement so that all students are on that zone. Goldilocks zone does not limit extra things, for instance extensions in the classroom to challenge students, but discusses the bare minimum that must be there. That is the role of defining essential standards and learning targets.

Regular Formative Assessments

Scientist have to run several tests on each planet they may feel is in the Goldilocks zone to determine if it meets all of the criteria. In teaching, students should be exposed to regular formative assessments to gauge their understanding and to test where they are at throughout the year.

Specific Research Based Interventions

When a student is failing to meet the grade level standards then we know that we are not in their Goldilocks zone. Therefore, the teacher must adjust and provide appropriate interventions to meet those needs of each student. The regular formative assessments should provide information on exactly what needs are being missed. From that data, the teacher then must look into research and evidence based interventions that work best. Scientist don’t start throwing out random solutions to a problem without having exhausted best practices first.

Ask for Help

The last piece of advise is to not be afraid to ask for help. If you are a new teacher or a teacher who has been doing this for 30 years there is no shame in asking for help if you are struggling to find a student’s Goldilocks zone. There are large teams of scientists working to find inhabitable planets in space, not just one scientist. When asking for help it doesn’t even have to be within your building or your content area. One of the best things about the internet is how it has grown every educators “Personal Learning Network” or PLN. Twitter is a great place to search hashtags or look for educational gurus and search their works. I know I have learned so much through my digital interactions. Whatever can help me reach every child is worth doing.

Good teaching practices are all around us. Resources are available to teachers who want to continue to be a life long learner and to reach all students. Every students’ Goldilocks zone can be and should be found.

Feedback: how are we really doing?

Feedback: how are we really doing?

Teacher evaluations can be a stressful topic in schools. Personally, I look forward to walk-throughs from my administrator. It is a time for an outsider to come in and give me a different perspective on my classroom. I anxiously look forward to my feedback as it provides insight on areas I can celebrate and areas I can grow in.  I only wish I got to have continuous feedback throughout the year so I could see and track my progress over time. As an educator, that is exactly what we should be doing with students; proving ample opportunities to receive feedback and to show growth.

So, as educators in all positions, how are we really doing on feedback? Studies have shown that the way a teacher approaches feedback will greatly effect each student’s learning. While attending a Solution Tree RTI at Work conference in New Orleans, Nicole Dimich Vagle spoke on feedback and the huge impact it has on student achievement.

Grading assessments, whether formative or summative, should give the teacher AND student a deeper understanding of the misconceptions that have occurred. This means that assessments should be designed with a specific purpose and end goal in mind. Once the assessment has been designed and the students have taken it, the teacher must then decide how to provide feedback and ways for students to learn from their mistakes.

A study done for Classroom Assessment and Grading that Works by Mazarno shows us these staggering statistics:


Teacher Action: Only tell students number of correct and incorrect.

Impact on Student Achievement: Negative, student achievement decreases.


Teacher Action: Clarify scoring criteria.

Impact on Student Achievement: Increase student achievement by 16%.


Teacher Action: Provide explanations about why responses are correct or incorrect.

Impact on Student Achievement: Increases student achievement by 20%


Teacher Action: Ask students to continue responding to an assessment until they correctly answer the items.

Impact on Student Achievement: Increases student achievement by 20%


Teacher Action: Graph student achievement.

Impact on Student Achievement: Increases student achievement by 26%


Those numbers were shocking to me. I thought about all the times I only gave my students the number of questions they got right and wrong. For summative assessments I have always allowed test corrections, but it has only been in the last year that I have allowed for corrections on other assignments. After I got over the horrible feeling that I had failed all of my students, I started trying to answer the question “how can I do better?”

When I returned from the conference I knew that the way I provided feedback had to change. Not only did it have to change, but I could not wait until the next year to implement new practices; I had to start now. The first thing I have begun with is developing three student learning targets that I provide at the beginning of each unit. Students are asked each week to rate their understanding on those three targets. This is not the same as graphing student achievement, but it is a start.

After I created these learning targets I created three short formative assessments; no more than five questions on them for each unit. These assessments line up with the student learning targets and help provide not only myself, but also feedback to the students on their understanding of each target. These assessments are not put in the grade book; they are purely used for feedback and growth.

Eventually I would like to create rubrics for each of my formative assessments that students can self-grade and look for their own errors. My next goal will be to have students track their growth over the year towards overarching targets for the entire subject. All of this is a process that will take time. One way to tackle this workload is functioning in a PLC school. Working in a Professional Learning Community will divide up the work and actually make providing individual feedback more manageable. Individualizing feedback takes a lot of work, but it is well worth it and is invaluable to student growth.

The New Problem Solver in Education

The New Problem Solver in Education

As a secondary math teacher I am constantly trying to teach my students how to be problem solvers. When a situation is presented, look for patterns from previous experiences, identify all of the pertinent information, and create a solution. This is a great skill to have and every student that graduates high school should have it mastered.

Once you are in the “real world” I feel that being a problem solver is no longer adequate. Yes, things will inevitably go wrong and people need to know how to fix them quickly and efficiently. What sets leaders apart is not just the ability  to solve problems quickly, but to be able to find the potential problem before it happens and to put actions in place to prevent it from ever happening.

I am quickly learning in my educational leadership classes that there are so many different facets to every potential issue. There will be problems that cannot be avoided. As a educational leader, whether that is as an administrator or teacher leader, it is your job to be able to identify potential problems and determine if there is a prevention that can be put in place. This is why it is best to surround yourself with people who have a range of different abilities. Every problem can look different to the person viewing it, therefore don’t try to tackle them alone. When approaching these issues be consistent with your approach; student impact should always be top priority, but also consider how your solution may affect stakeholders as well.

Building a team to help access problems will help make any educational leader’s life easier. Don’t just have the administration team look at these potential problems. Have teachers, students, parents, and community members examine them as well. These are all people who may be affected by the issue at hand. Education is the future, and everyone should be involved in defining the best way to educate the next generation.

Do you RTI?

Do you RTI?

Educators become very familiar with  buzzwords each year. The ideas and concepts do not necessarily change, but the words do. Differentiated instruction, growth mindset, rigor, evidence-based… these are just a few of the terms that every educator today hears on a daily basis. Another one that we hear a lot right now is response to intervention, or simply RTI. The problem with buzzwords is that educators can sometimes use them without fully understanding what they mean.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a Solution Tree conference in New Orleans. The conference was on RTI (Response to Intervention) and the keynote speakers were; Mike Mattos, Luis Cruz, Nicole Dimich Vagle, and Brian Butler. This was, without a doubt, the best conference I have ever attended. Each session I went to was engaging and purposeful. Sometimes I felt a little overwhelmed because of the amount of knowledge each presenter had to share. Yet, anytime I had a question each one of these renowned educational leaders sat down and patiently worked through my hang ups with me.

I went down to New Orleans with a limited view of RTI. I thought RTI was just pulling students out of class for make up work or reteaching. Maybe it includes some one on one tutoring time. I thought that if our school simply built our schedule around providing this time, then we just needed a little training on best intervention practices and we were good to go.

I was so very wrong.

On the way home my husband asked me “so what is RTI?” This question was met with complete and utter silence. RTI is so much larger than just some interventions and pull outs. It is the way a school approaches education all together. RTI is the mission of the school that says that ALL students learn grade level content or higher. It is the way teachers plan together. It is the way teachers teach and collaborate together. It is the way teachers use data to drive tier 1 and tier 2 instruction. It is the screening process to identify students who have years of educational gaps for tier 3 instruction. It is the way that the entire school comes together to teach academic and behavioral skills to students. All of those pieces are still not a comprehensive explanation of RTI, but it is a start.

Upon returning to work I had a debrief session with my administrator who sent me to this conference. He asked me what my top three recommendations were for the school. This was a tough question, but I knew I was going to be asked this and had spent a lot of time considering my answer.

  1. Teachers have to have a common time to plan together. This is a school wide effort and every teacher has to be involved and committed.
  2. Teachers need to identify their 3-5 essential standards for the grade/content area. These standards are the must haves for all students before they leave that class.
  3. With my specific school functioning on a block schedule, I said we needed to help train teachers on how to use the time they have to provide tier 1 (regular day to day teaching practices) and tier 2 (reteaching for the students who did not understand after the first time) interventions within the schedule. Neither of these interventions should be done with a pull out system where children are missing other classes.

Each school will have different needs, but someone has to start the process. The top three recommendations for any school are the building blocks that will start the restructuring of education that is long overdue. So if you are just starting to have RTI conversations and are looking to make the change here is my advice.

Be patient

Do not expect everything to happen over night. Implementing all of the pieces will take years. RTI is a long and ongoing process, but it is worth the outcome. As an administrator be prepared for push back from your staff who are not seeing immediate results. As an educator understand this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Commitment

I was speaking with a principal at a PLC school and I used the term “teacher buy-in” and she very kindly said that she prefers to use the word “commitment”. One of the core aspects of RTI is collective responsibility among the entire staff. It takes the entire staff committing to the mission so that all students can learn grade level or higher content.

Guiding Coalition

The guiding coalition is the name for the RTI committee responsible for the implementation and guidance of the RTI processes and systems. Each school needs to identify a team of the most qualified people for this committee. This should not be a volunteer based team, but rather the administrators need to identify which people can help run the school-wide RTI system most effectively. This team has to meet regularly. Once a month is not going to be adequate, especially at the beginning of the implementation process. I would recommend weekly as the school is starting the RTI process.

Professional Learning Communities

Having a team of educators to learn from each other on a weekly basis is crucial to RTI and is a non-negotiable. There is not a set schedule that will work for every school. Each school has to commit to making PLC time  a priority and all teachers have to commit to functioning together as a unit. This does not mean that instruction should look the same in each class. Part of PLC discussion is to see how each teacher taught content differently to learn from one another.

Essential Standards

As of right now with the structure of standards in the United States, there are too many standards per grade. Teachers struggle to teach all of them in a school year. As educators, we all know that some students will not master all of the standards each year. To make this feat more manageable, each content team (including SPED and ESL) needs to define 3-5 essential standards that teachers commit to, and that all of their students will master by the end of the school year.

Do not try and do too much your first year. Tier 3 can come later on down the road, so just focus on getting the ground work set for the entire structure. These changes do not have to start at the top. Teachers are the ones working with students every day. Start implementing little changes to reflect RTI and it will catch on. I received the book “Taking Action: A Handbook for RTI at Work” by Austin Buffum, Mike Mattos, and Janet Malone. This is a great resource for anyone who is wanting to learn more. Please email me with any of your stories about implementing RTI, including what has worked and what has not worked, because we are in this together.

background beautiful blossom calm waters
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