Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What are they thinking?

Last week, out of the blue, we received an e-mail with an "invitation" or rather a command appearance at an in-service.  I teach in a very large county and the leadership had decided that ALL K-2 teachers would attend a half day in-service conducted by the state.  The time was to be spent learning about the FAIR, our state K-2 assessment and how to plan for instruction.  I was actually excited.  I have been to several state workshops and in-services over the years and they are usually presented by very knowledgeable presenters.  I figured if the county was making EVERY teacher go then it must be something new and cutting edge.  Why else would the county take on the expense of substitutes for every single teacher and moving so many teachers in and out of the city over the course of an entire week?

So... today I sat through three hours of the most basic in-service.  I think the presenters were very knowledgeable but the information presented was not that different from the information that we were presented three or four years ago and every year since then.  Will the county ever quit presenting on beginning professional development? In my county, performance pay for K-2 teachers will be based on this assessment so I can understand why you would need to have every teacher have a basic foundational knowledge of this assessment but the focus was "using the data to focus instruction, to differentiate for groups".  The presentation was one PowerPoint slide after another with a couple of demonstrations - several Elkonin box examples (are there really K-2 teachers who don't know about Elkonin boxes?)  It was... boring...  It scares me to think what must be going on in my county that that was the level of presentation someone in our leadership thought we needed...

One of the things that I have learned as a presenter is that if you want teachers to really "get all it" then you need to model what it is that you want them to do.  There was a lot of talk about explicit instruction today but surely they also know the research on basic lecture methods and their ineffectiveness.  Of course, they did throw in a couple of "turn and talks."  In my opinion, if you want teachers to differentiate in their instruction with kids then the presentation itself should have been differentiated.  It doesn't seem to me that it would have been too hard to give a quick assessment that teachers could have used to self-assess and then choose a workshop that was appropriate to their need and interest. There were certainly enough instructors from the sate in the room that the session could have been divided into many smaller groups.  For example, I would love to have asked these real state experts about some of the questions that we are wrestling with such as how to best use the FAIR data in the RtI process or how better to use the vocabulary percentiles and what the best interventions might be that match the data or exactly how to group students using the comprehension data in the early grades.  Instead we spent time looking at the same basic scores that we were taught to analyze three years ago. I hate to say it was a waste of time, because maybe it wasn't for some teachers.  But... for me, I could have been much more productive working with children in my classroom this morning.

I REALLY HATE complaining... but I hate wasting my time even more...

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Last week I sat on the floor with C's mom and dad at our local tutoring space in the neighborhood and taught them how to use flash cards with him to work on his letters and sounds and then showed them how they could use the same cards to put the letters of the alphabet in order. His dad listened so attentively, just like he had when we talked about how he could help C practice writing his name. And C has learned to write his name! This dad adores his little boy and he is willing to do whatever it takes. He just needs a little help on knowing what to do. It won't be long before C knows his letters because I know his dad will practice with him every night.

K showed up a the MARC for the first time this week. She hid behind her mother's skirt as her mother half dragged her in. As soon as her mom left K worked on letters and sounds, eagerly writing and taking parts in the games. She had the opportunity to work with a retired Speech Therapist to help with her language needs. I sat with her mom for a few minutes while we waited for K to finish a language game and I asked her about K's diagnosis of ADHD, something I had been told by a previous teacher. Her mom surprised me by saying that the doctor could not actually decide if it was ADHD or language that were causing her inattention. Sure enough, the next day when I hunted down the paperwork her mother was right and I had been told incorrectly. I am so appreciative of that brief conversation with her mom. I also realized that the paperwork was a year old so her mom has now agreed to go back to the doctor to see if we can get a more definitive diagnosis. I don't think this mom would have ever come to school for a conference, but she was so easy and willing to talk with when I sat with her in her own neighborhood.

And then there is D. She is new to our school and so quiet. I have run into her at the MARC several times as I am leaving.  I see her on the playground with her baby sister. Today I was at the MARC with Second Harvest. Second Harvest gathers food from local sources and then makes it available for distribution free of charge to needy families. D came through with her mom and baby sister. She was so helpful to her mom, like a mini-adult. I couldn't help but think of all this little girl is carrying on her shoulders. I think she was surprised... and happy to see me, and... I think it will make a difference in our relationship in class. There just seemed to be such a special connection as she ran up and hugged me and introduced me to her mom.

One of the things that Ron Clark says in his newest book, The End of Molasses Classes, is that you have to get to know your students if you want to connect with them and that you need to form strong bonds with parents. That is the same principle that is a cornerstone of Chets Creek - relationships.  I guess it has just been reinforced to me again this week - just how important those relationships really are!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The End of Molasses Classes, Post 1

I have joined a book study and you can too!  This is my first response to Ron Clark's The End of Molasses Classes.

I have had the opportunity to hear Ron Clark speak several times and even had the honor of introducing him when he was speaking in Jacksonville several years ago.  I am so impressed with his energy and enthusiasm.  At first I thought he was one of those superhero teachers that jumps into teaching for a few years and then leaves teaching to tell the rest of us how to do it.  What makes Ron Clark different is that he used the money he made from appearances to open his own school where he teaches every day!   I think I could comment on every one of the Core Principles and Values because I believe in every one! Of course, believing in them and acting on them with the passion that Ron Clark has can be quite different.

I guess the principle that comes easiest for me is #13: Treat every child as if he or she were your own.  That comes very naturally for me and has every since I had children, and now grandchildren, of my own.  I often think, "What if the child was Kallyn (my Kindergarten grandchild)?" and that often flavors the way I see things.

I think the one I wish I was better at is #19: Make learning magical.  I think there are teachers at my school that do this well, but it's a stretch for me.  When I am planning a lesson, I think about fun but more about sequence and depth and rigor, but I don't really think magical.  I would like to challenge myself to ask that question more often.