Monday, June 29, 2009

Technology Conference

One of the best things about our school is that if teachers attend conferences or other professional development, they blog it live! All day I have been following our Instructional Technologist Melanie Holtsman and Standard Coach Suzanne Shall as they have been working their way through the national technology conference in Washington, D.C. Not only have I been following their blog posts but I have also been following their tweets of I feel like I'm meeting some of the same people that they are meeting and that I'm hearing some of the same sessions, just as they are. As I follow the back channel chat on a session or visit wikis and web sites as they are presented, it's almost as if I have a friend sitting there with me discussing the presentation as it goes. Now don't be too impressed. I have just starting using Twitter this week so that I could follow this conference! I do have to admit that this is as close as you can get to being there! What an exciting way to learn!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Professional Development in the Summer

I took advantage of some small group professional development offered this week by the Core Reading Series consultants in our county. You might wonder why I would do that since I have written often about not using the Core Reading Series. Regardless of how I use the series, my county spent millions of dollars adopting a Core. I certainly feel a responsibility to honor that decision in a way that makes sense in the bigger picture and also that makes sense with I know from my own experience and professional development. While I hate, what Lucy Calkins' refers to as, "popcorn" lessons which are the strength of the repeating spiraled Core curriculum, what I believe are, more meaningful lessons for an extended length of time around Ellin Keene's strategy work, I realize that much of the "stuff" that comes with the Core can be repurposed to fit into lessons that make sense to the students that I teach and my own teaching philosophy. Millions of dollars have been spent on resources for the Core so my objective this week is to make sure we are using every piece that fits with what we are actually doing.

So what did I actually learn in my small group lesson this week?
  • I learned that the county will not level the last group of books that we got for our libraries. Because at my school we need leveled books more than we need genre books, we will have to do that work ourselves. If anyone has already done that work for kindergarten and first grade, please share! If not, I will be tackling that also this summer.
  • I learned that the Soar to Success kit is a daily intervention program that targets children that are 18 months below grade level, so really is only appropriate for some of my lowest special education students. Teachers who had experience with the kits in Summer School suggested going through the books one day at a time instead of the suggested one week at a time, until you reach a level appropriate for your group, which may be one way to use this program more efficiently.
  • I learned that we are no longer expected to keep the individual Assessment Books for each child intact so we may rip out assessment pages that we need, such as the skills assessments. This is a change from what we were told earlier in the year. And... these books will be replenished each year, so I need to identify pages that will be useful for us.
  • I learned that we may take all of our small 6-pack sets (vocabulary and guided reading sets) and arrange them by Fountas-Pinnell levels, which is good since that is how most of our teachers are already using them! Most of our teachers have packaged them in zip lock bags with the the teacher guide folder inside the bag. One of the consultants suggested making a notebook for each FP level of the Teacher Guides, which are already hole punched, which I thought was an excellent idea! It would be wonderful to have all of the Teacher Guides for a single level of books together. By looking through them a teacher could easily see the skills and strategies to be taught for that level in their small guided reading lessons.
  • I learned that the Small Group Independent Activities box has a nice purple pocket chart with cards that can be used for a Center rotation schedule instead of making one yourself. Since most teachers have not even opened that box, it's worth digging into it to get to the pocket chart!
  • I learned that the Home-Community Connections Book has many interesting hints for families that can be used in our weekly Newsletters and blogs.
  • Finally, I learned that has many, many resources that are not password protected and can be used by teachers.
The one thing that I didn't get, which was my main reason for going, was a picture list of exactly what each grade level should have. While it was wonderful hear so much about how to use what we have, we were divided into primary and intermediate and often the consultant would say, "but kindergarten doesn't have this" or "your county didn't order this piece." Of course, we have received all sorts of "lists" but I yearn for a list of exactly which pieces were ordered by my county for my grade level with a picture of each item, much like we have on our own pacing guide. So alas, I am still trying to figure out what we have and what we should have, so I know what to do with each piece. There is no questions that we have a mountain of "stuff" - now if we can just figure out how to make the best use of all of that stuff to make a difference in student achievement!

All of the teachers attending these summer sessions are doing it on their own time. As you listen to their questions and discussions, it is obvious that they are trying to "do it right." They so want to learn and figure it out and I think the consultants honestly want to be supportive and answer questions. I wonder... With all of the technology available these days, would the time be better spent making videos, editing lessons that could be watched using the materials, or making podcasts, or writing blogs and wikis with the most asked questions and answers - technology that would reach the entire teacher populace on their own time... This is just such a large county and it seems that our professional development needs to move into a more proactive, rather than reactive stance. I'm sure this is not a novel thought and some of what I yearn for may be in the development stage or even pieces may be now available on-line somewhere. Obviously, it's easier said than done... or we'd be using it... wouldn't we?

Monday, June 8, 2009

End with a New Beginning

One of the best things about the end of the year is the last day of school. After a bittersweet good-by to our children, it's off to the end of the year luncheon. This year we went to Epping Forest to an elegant setting on the water and an elegant lunch. The food was yummy! As we began dessert, Susan Phillips, our Principal, began reading letters she has received at the end of the year from our stakeholders. There were letters from parents who wrote the principal with a grateful heart about their child's teachers, letters from teachers with children at Chets who wrote about their child's teacher, and teachers who wrote about co-workers. Many of the letters were joyful and hysterically funny. Others were tearful as they wrapped us in memories and reminded us of the depth of our relationships. They tugged at our hearts. I'm usually such an emotional wreck by the time she finishes the letters that I am totally spent, but... that's only the beginning.

It is our tradition at Chets Creek to publicly honor individuals and teams who have met or exceeded our standards of excellence. Susan honors individuals and groups such as those teachers who are completing their first year of teaching, the PTA and SAC Chairs, the Teacher and Employee of the Year, and our newest National Board Certified Teachers. She also recognizes "unsung heroes" that this year included a couple of part time teachers who have gone over and above, a teacher who has started a school recycling program with energy and determination, and our Dining Room workers who take the toughest job at school and do it with a smile. She recognized those high fliers who have led teacher meetings, who ran our Relay for Life event, and who ran our Math Superstars program. Since this year was a concentration in technology she recognized some of the teachers who had taken technology risks such as a teacher who networked with a school in Bangkok and the five teachers who have responded to every single Book-of-the-Month challenge! Then three teachers were selected by the faculty to receive awards for taking risks with technology this year. Eleven teachers were recognized for 100% of their students meeting the standard on our state's high stakes testing!!

Finally the Team of the Year was announced - always a highlight. This year the Team of the Year was the Foundations Team - a team that surveyed our population and discovered a problem with bullying. Then they addressed the problem by bully proofing. Finally, with reluctant hearts, we said good-by to teachers that are leaving us and with happy hearts, welcomed those new folks who will be joining us.

Anticipation built as we watched a slide show of memories - this year with funny speech bubbles - that ended with Susan's announcement of the new theme - Orchestrating a Symphony of Student Success! Teachers can't wait to see the new theme unveiled each year and there's never a hint until the luncheon. Suspense builds! Teachers have been trying to guess the theme all week! The new theme was a smash hit!

I have taught at lots of schools on the last day, but Chets Creek does something that no other school has ever been able to capture. At a time when you are just too tired and ready to be finished, Chets Creek gets you all excited about the next year. Most years after a summer of relaxation and fun, I'm ready to return, rejuvenated for the new year, but Chets builds that feeling into the end of the year! What a great ending to an equally great year! I can't wait to see what next year brings as we enter with a song in our hearts!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The end is near....

As I sit here on the last morning before the last day of the school year, I say a bittersweet good-by to a group of students that I have had for two years. I have watched them grow and learn and I am just so proud of their progress. When you are with students for two years you get to know them well but you also get to know their families. You get to know their challenges and their joys. You cry with them through death, and divorce and loss of jobs. You celebrate with them as they welcome a new child to their family and share with you about promotions, marriages and vacations from all over the world. You watch a few children move and another few join the group as strangers in your new land. You watch as they are welcomed into our community with compassion and tender care. You learn personal things that kids share with you sometimes things the family might rather you didn't know - and the families probably learn too many personal things about me that their child took home from our conversations! You meet brothers and sisters and extended family. You really have a sense of family with these children that you have loved and shared your time with. It's hard to say good-by but this year I feel so good about what these children are taking away. I feel they have a very strong academic foundation and they have grown as citizens able to navigate the relationships of a community. We are all better for the time that we have spent together. Maybe that's why I love teaching- because at the end of each year, regardless of the challenges or the successes - I know I am a better person in the end. I grow as much as the students do - maybe more! Thank you parents, for trusting me with your child this year. Thank you children, for sharing your life with me. I am truly the luckiest person in the world for having chosen this profession!