How about a Round of Empathy: In 2 Parts

Part 2: Empathy for Seniors

Background: My husband is a high school Social Studies teacher. I am a Curriculum Coordinator at the same school. We have 2 high school children (a sophomore and a senior), who attend this school. 

I’m thinking that this post is for teachers and parents of the Senior Class of 2020. I can only give the view of my senior and what I am noticing but I am sure that others can relate and surely have more to add. 

Tradition… Interrupted

There is a tradition at this school. Seniors write long letters, by hand, on their graduation cards to their friends, parents of their friends, and most loved teachers. They start writing these letters as soon as the grad cards arrive. Some write as many as 40 or more. Except for this year. The cards are sequestered in the high school office. The campus is closed to families for the remainder of the year. The school is figuring out how to get everything to the seniors.

This is one of many traditions at our school, but this is the one most affecting our senior. It is getting in the way of everything else. It is consuming his days and nights. Who can think about AP Environment Science or Calculus or English at a time like this? These letters must be written, revised, and written again on these special cards in the neatest smallest handwriting ever! Except for this year. Our senior is making his own cards out of cardstock he borrowed from my office. He is putting a lot of consideration into the design of the front AND back of the cards as well as what is going to be personally written in each one. 

This is one reason that schoolwork is being put on the back burner. I have to let it go and let him come to grips with what he is prioritizing right now.

A Case of the What-Ifs

Our senior has known since November where he was going for university. It was his only choice. We visited last summer on a college tour and he knew immediately that Western Colorado University was the school for him. The campus is lovely. The people we met were his kind of people. It felt like a community and reminded him of everything he loved about his high school community.

Western

Last month, he chose a roommate and they speak most days. They are getting to know each other, their histories, and their hopes as college students. 

As the days have passed, though, the What-Ifs have started creeping into our senior’s daily thoughts.

what if

What if we can’t move into our dorm in August? Where will I live? What will I do?

What if I have to live at home by myself? I’ll need a license. I’ll need a car. I’ll need a job. I’ll need to learn how to care for a house and myself. Should I get a roommate?

What if my family can’t travel home for Christmas because COVID is still around? I won’t see them for almost a year. I don’t have any other family nearby. I might not be able to travel east to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I might be alone for a long time.

What if I can’t do it? I can’t be that kid who still lives with Mom and Dad. You know, the one who graduated but still hangs out with the high school kids. 

What if? What if? What if? What if? What if? What if?

This is another reason that schoolwork is being put on the back burner. I have to support him, his worries, his reality, and let him come to grips with what he is prioritizing right now.

There’s No Cap on Empathy, Right?

Are his classes important? Yes. Is this experience showing us whether or not he can be a successful independent learner or a responsible adult? At first, I would have said yes. I no longer believe that this experience is actually telling us anything about who our kids are as independent learners or responsible humans any more than it’s telling us where we fall on the continuum of perfect parents or amazing teachers. We are all just trying to survive.

What IS important right now?

Loving our children. Loving our students. Showing grace. 

I have received a few emails from teachers over the last few weeks about our senior’s missing assignments or projects. I am so impressed with the care they have shown; the patience they have. I have so much empathy for all of these teachers- they did not sign up for this. I also have so much empathy for our seniors- they did not sign up for this, either. I just hope that there isn’t a cap on empathy.

How about a Round of Empathy: In 2 Parts

Background: My husband is a high school Social Studies teacher. I am a Curriculum Coordinator at the same school. We have 2 high school children (a sophomore and a senior), who attend this school.

Part 1: Empathy for Teachers

This past Friday morning, I was pouring a cup of coffee in the kitchen. My husband was holding a virtual synchronous class with one of his AP World History classes in the same room (his workspace is in our kitchen). I could tell he was getting frustrated. 

Who am I kidding, we are all beyond getting frustrated.

Earlier in the week, he shared a discussion post using Parlay to ask students to choose which option they preferred as a way forward to prepare for the AP exam as a class and to comment on one other student’s post. 

Parlay Discussion Post

Goal: Try to decide how we look at AP World History Review from April 12th – March 21st 

Option 1: Start to use the review videos released by the College Board. The videos typically are created by AP readers/teachers who approach the review unit by unit. The units are divided into subunits with lots of instructions about how/why the content could be incorporated into writing for the Modified, 2020 APWH test.

Option 2: Continue to use a variety of resources to review the content of each APWH unit. The activities include a variety of shorter videos and vocabulary activities. 

Discussion Question

Which option do you like the best? Give a rationale as to why you think this option would work best for you and/or the class.

Peer Feedback Instructions

You are expected to respond to at least one other student’s discussion answer. You can politely disagree with them (give a rationale for your disagreement) or concur with them (give a rationale for your agreement).

Some students did not complete this simple task. Others completed it with seemingly little care. Maybe the students were thinking that the teacher knows best and they will review in whatever way he thinks is best for them. For many of them, this is their first AP course. They don’t know what they don’t know.

However, let’s look at it from the teacher’s point-of-view. 

As a school, we are pretty deep into our COVID-19 Distance Learning experience. Not China-deep, but Asia-deep. We are in the second phase of our thinking now that we know this will be our reality for the remainder of the school year. Here’s what that looks like:

Phase II Focus:

  • Essential learning and assessing
  • Letting go of the “nice to know” curriculum
  • Engaging and motivating projects/activities/performance assessments
  • Not burning out (teachers or students)

So, with this in mind, I know the teacher from this story was considering these aspects as well as other relevant data. For instance, students have made it clear in surveys that they appreciate any chance to collaborate with their peers, take part in discussions, and have some choice/ownership of their learning. Parlay was a new tool that he thought would be fun for kids, let them interact with each other, and give them a voice in the decision about how to review and prepare for the AP exam.

What the students didn’t know was how much time it took to learn the tool, set it up, create the post, try it out, revise it, and publish it for each class.

The discussion was posted on Monday. There was a reminder on Wednesday, and by Friday morning’s synchronous class, well, let’s just say that my husband had to use his teacher voice.

He was honest. He was vulnerable. He let the kids know that he was frustrated and working a heck of a lot harder than they were. He actually listed the steps he took to create the discussion board and the time it took from his weekend. 

Remember earlier when I said they don’t know what they don’t know? This is the empathy part. 

In class, teachers have the toolbox that they have been digging into for years. In Distance Learning, it’s a whole new toolbox. Students don’t know that. Students don’t realize that teachers are learning new tech tools, new ways to communicate and collaborate, rethinking units, and completely redesigning assessments.

I think it’s more than okay to be honest and vulnerable with our students. I also think that students who understand exactly how hard their teachers are working to create meaningful learning experiences at home will be more engaged and more motivated

During your check-ins with students this week, open up to them about how hard this is and what you have learned. Show them. It’s not about gaining sympathy or making them feel guilty. We are all human. When they see just how much you are doing for them, I hope some of them might try a little harder, give a little more.

How do you share your own learning and your own struggles with students? Let me know!

Ginny

Hoping to post Part 2: Empathy for Seniors soon!

Analyzing Authentic Assessments

As we continue to practice aligning assessments to standards, it’s important to not only reflect on student data but to plan for improving results for all learners. Framing our conversation (aka using a protocol) about student data will help us focus on the learning targets and how the assessment actually provided evidence of mastery of the targeted standards.

Steps for Framing a Team Conversation

Within one week of giving a common assessment, set aside 30 minutes of your team’s common planning time (teachers will need to mark their class’s assessments before the team meeting). If you are a one-person team, then ask a critical friend, an administrator, or an instructional coach to join you for some analysis fun!

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 12.11.32 PM.png
I hope that my colleagues know that I am always eager to join a conversation about learning!

As a team, consider the following questions, from In Praise of American Educators, to determine the validity of the assessment, its alignment to the standards, and how the data will be used to improve results for all students. Your team may decide that other questions should be added to frame the conversation. Add those, too.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 11.30.40 AM
The reproducible below is found in the book above.

 

Possible questions to consider, from DuFour’s book:

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 11.47.57 AM

Once the team feels that they have a better understanding of the students’ current learning of the targeted standards, then consider what these results mean to the next unit of study as well as how this unit will be revised for next year. Those reflective notes should be added to the unit documentation as well as the assessment. The ATLAS UbD template is a perfect spot to add strategies for differentiation and notes about the unit.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 11.49.41 AM.png
This is our template for Stage 3 in ATLAS. Some teams also use Google Docs for Stage 3.

 

Finally, check out Solution Tree’s free resources for tools to help your team work collaboratively and with purpose, information about upcoming webinars, and a video library from the experts in learning.

Have a great week!

Ginny

Happy New School Year!

Students and teachers across the world are beginning a new year. How do I know? My Facebook feed is inundated with Back-to-School pics- and I love it! Here are a few from my feed over the years. Don’t tell my kids!

When our kids would tell us about their first few days of school, it was clear how the year was going to go. The teachers who spent time getting to know their students by building relationships and building routines were more likely to be the teachers that helped our kids feel cared for and feel confident.

It doesn’t need to take a lot of time to begin on the right foot. It can be as simple as standing at the classroom door, shaking each student’s hand, looking them in the eyes, making a quick introduction, and welcoming them to class. The old don’t-smile-until-Christmas advice has never been good for anyone.

Who are your students?

Over the first few weeks of school, the connection you make with students will impact the rest of the year. First impressions work both ways. Tell them about yourself as a student and a learner when you were their age. Better yet, show them a picture of YOU at their age. Here I am at different stages of awkwardness.

Let them know what your dreams were for your future. Where you thought you’d be. How you got where you are now.

Have a laugh, reminisce, then focus on them.

As much as it is a great ice-breaker for them to get to know each other, I recommend that you also get their info on paper (or digitally). Maybe through a discussion post or journal entry on your LMS, or a Google Form, or even a shared Google Doc. This may be the most important data you collect all year.

Focus your questions on these 3 topics (including a few examples):

Your students as people…

  • What is their background?
  • Where is home (especially important to those who are international)?
  • How would their family and friends describe them?
  • What do they need you to know about them?

Your students as learners…

  • What type of teacher do they respect?
  • How do they learn best?
  • How do they ask for help when they need it?

Your students as the future…

  • What are they passionate about?
  • What is happening now in their world that excites them?
  • What is happening now in their world that worries them?

Finally, let’s get back to you.

How are You Modeling Lifelong Learning?

As we get to know our students and they get to know us, we need to think about how we are modeling learning as learners ourselves. We need to build our own learning networks and share, with students, what we are learning as well as how we are using that learning. If we expect students to be learners, we must be learners.

Facebook and Twitter have made this easy. If you teach science and use the NGSS, then there’s a Facebook page for you. If you teach PE, then there are pages for you. If you use Seesaw, then there are pages for you. Honestly, if you teach it, someone is posting about it!

Here is a Google Site that I made last year with links to pages that are worth adding to your learning network. Leave me a comment if you have others that I should add.

My thoughts and energy are with you all this year. It’s going to be GREAT!

Learning Walks Grow Learning

Are Learning Walks part of your school’s culture? What do you look for on a Learning Walk? How can Learning Walks improve every school’s climate?

These were some of the questions asked of our team (several years ago) when Martin Skelton came in and got us “Looking for Learning!” His advice allowed me to step back and notice the learning environment, as well as my routines and daily objectives. Fast-forward a few years and in comes another wise consultant who deepened my understanding of looking for learning through Learning Walks. It was clear that teachers could make small tweaks to what they already do to encourage visiting students, parents, administrators, and the community to see what their students were learning, not just what they were doing.

What Do You Look For on a Learning Walk?

On Learning Walks, you look for learning. What does learning look like? That’s the harder question. There are a few simple ways that I look for learning in our school’s hallways.

  • I look for authentic student work displayed along the corridors.
  • I look for the process of the work, not just the final product. Where did their learning begin and where are they now?
  • I also look for the purpose of the learning (the objective or “I Can” statement).
  • I also look for reflections of the learning, either written by each student or a shared class reflection.

Within the classroom, I look for learning in many different ways. It’s important to first get a feel for each individual classroom’s environment. If each classroom was expected to have the exact same set-up and the exact same routines, then teachers’ creativity and passion would be stifled- we don’t want that. However, if you were a new student and this was your first visit, what would you need to look for to know that you could learn in this room? There are a few simple ways that I look for learning in classrooms.

  • I look for today’s schedule.
  • I look for what we are learning today (and hopefully why and how).
  • I look for instructions of routines (How do kids choose books from the library? What are the steps of the writing process? How do we solve problems? What to do if you’re absent?).
  • I look for varied learning spaces. (Can some students stand or sit on the carpet? Does learning happen in different places in the classroom?).

Learning Walks can also be focused on a specific initiative. Emily DeLiddo of languageisliving.com, is a literacy consultant who narrowed my focus of Learning Walks to Literacy-Rich Environments. Emily drafted a Learning Walk that focused on 7 sub-topics: environment, halls, word walls, materials, charts, library, and environmental print. She recommended that we should share the Learning Walk document with teachers, revise it if needed, then chunk the sub-topics into doable actions. Since most of the teachers already had their classrooms set up for the workshop model, we could celebrate the positive documentation of ENVIRONMENTS.

Environ

This quarter, our elementary teachers are going to implement Learning Walks as part of their professional learning.

learning walk 3

Teams can decide when they’re ready for other teams to visit their team for a Learning Walk. Hopefully, this will allow teachers to be confident in their work, while also giving praise to colleagues.

learning walk 2

Each grade level has an Apple Tree (I know it’s corny; I can’t help it). They simply stick the apple (possibly the Word Walls apple) to their tree and the other grade levels know that they are ready to show off their Word Walls. Everyone has a different take on Word Walls and how to use them, so teachers can get lots of ideas from their colleagues that may help them learn a different way.

WW

Learning Walk1

Teachers will have a chance to share what they’ve learned from visiting other classrooms during staff meetings. It’s a great chance to take a few minutes from the agenda to celebrate learning.

How Can Learning Walks Improve Every School’s Climate?

Learning Walks, when used as a learning tool and never as an evaluation, will focus the entire staff on learning and feedback. They allow teachers and students to be more comfortable and confident with what is happening in the classroom. When the school community can easily look for learning in the hallways and classrooms, the school becomes a museum of learning and an art gallery of understanding.

Reaching Reluctant Writers

How do we inspire kids to be writers when they just don’t want to? This is the case for lots of kids. English Language Learners, perfectionists, those with insufficient experience or knowledge of a subject, those who prefer to tell stories rather than write them… the list is endless. Some kids (and adults) just don’t want to write.

Teachers can easily Google strategies to help reluctant writers- and find a plethora of resources to guide their lessons. The surest way to inspire writers is to be one… and share your ideas, your struggles, your stories. When I show a student the way I have used a certain strategy, in my own notebook, it shows them that I am in this with them- not teacher to student… but writer to writer. That is deep.

My Writer's Notebook. I need to fancy it up with pictures and ideas for stories!
My Writer’s Notebook. I need to fancy it up with pictures and ideas for stories!

This morning, I was asked to model a lesson in a sixth grade ELL class. The students participated in a Week without Walls experience last week, and their teacher, Mrs. Garrick, wanted them to write about it. Knowing that these two students were reluctant writers, I decided to show them a strategy that took the overwhelming pressure of staring at a blank page of many lines, and turned it into a fun way to hold on to memories.

The Model: I attended the EARCOS Leadership Conference last week in Bangkok. Looking back on my notes, I chunked my learning around 5 topics. I have 5 fingers, so I thought that if I traced my hand in my writer’s notebook, then not only do I have a place to brainstorm, but I have taken up some space, and won’t have to write as much (this is my middle school thinking). Genius!

Modeling the strategy
Modeling the strategy- trace the hand
Modeling the strategy- brainstorm the topics
Modeling the strategy- brainstorm the topics

Interactive Writing/Shared Writing: After I modeled my topics and journal entry, I asked the students to think about how they could divide their writing into topics. Since the subject was their Week Without Walls trip, they considered these topics-

  1. What was the best part of the week?
  2. What was the worst part of the week?
  3. What was most fun or most embarrassing?
  4. What did I learn?
  5. How did I make new friends or show leadership during the week?
Sharing ideas about topics
Sharing ideas about topics

Independent Writing: Hands were traced, ideas for each topic were jotted in the fingers on the page, and the writing began. They wrote topic by topic until they wrote to the very end of the page. “Now what?” they asked. “Turn the page and keep going,” we smiled.

"This was the best day of writing! It was so much fun! Look how much I wrote; can I finish it at home?"
“This was the best day of writing! It was so much fun! Look at how much I wrote; can I finish it at home?”

Sharing Time: I was barely able to get them to stop writing before the lunch bell sounded. My question was simple- what was different about today’s workshop, than other days? With smiles from ear to ear, they exclaimed…

“This was fun!”

“The topics made it easy to know what to write next!”

“The hand in the middle of the page meant that I didn’t have to write as much (even though they actually wrote more than any other workshop this year).”

This made us grin from ear to ear. Today we reached the most reluctant of writers.

My journal entry.
My journal entry.

Thank you, Mrs. Garrick, for sharing your wonderful students with me. I love spending time writing with you all and learning with you all.

Mrs. Garrick- fellow teacher, fellow learner, fellow writer.
Mrs. Garrick- fellow teacher, fellow learner, fellow writer.

Teams with Poor Coaching Don’t Win the Big Game- in learning, every day is the Big Game

Some people work better on their own; I am not one of those people. I like being part of a team. I like everything that being on a team means… building a plan together, stretching together, practicing together, playing together, succeeding together, failing together, reflecting together, and improving together.

As a teacher, I was so blessed to work on some amazing teams of teachers and students. A few that come to mind are the grade 6 team at ACS Beirut (2001-2003)- we were energetic, passionate about learning, and made learning fun! The Dream Team of Seven Springs Middle School (2003-2005)- we took interdisciplinary learning to a whole new level, looping allowed us to really bond, and I worked with master teachers. DEMS (2007-2011)- I found my philosophical twin, and we team taught the heck out of grade 8- always keeping the students’ emotional well-being ahead of everything else!

Sometimes I was being mentored; other times I was the mentor. That’s what teams do- everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and everyone helps their team improve. No one is better than anyone else. PS- I am including students in my definition of team, so should you.

Being part of a team was what made teaching and learning so meaningful, but here I was, an administrator- with no team. I was lonely.

Then something happened… Something significant… Something that gave me goose bumps. I realized that being an administrator meant taking on the role as the coach of a team. A coach’s job is to inspire as a team, set goals as a team, learn as a team, communicate and model effectively as a team, play-succeed-fail as a team, reflect and improve as a team. Every team needs good coaching or the players are just playing for themselves.

This realization came last week during a professional development day. Grades K-5 team leaders assembled with their principal and me to develop division-wide Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions for the writing units of study. Here is how we worked as an effective (and totally awesome) team:

  • We built a plan together- What are the lifelong learning goals of writing?
  • We stretched our thinking together- What do we already know, and what do we need to know, about the significance of being lifelong writers?
  • We practiced and played together- What work have we done that is meaningful and should be honored?
  • We succeeded together- What are we doing well and is worth continuing?
  • We failed together- What should we stop doing, and why?
  • We reflected together- What did we used to think and what do we now know?
  • We improved together- When can we do this with other subjects? This was powerful!
K-5 Teamwork! Photo credit: Krista Roll
K-5 Teamwork! Photo credit: Krista Roll
K-5 Teamwork- Succeeding Together! Photo credit: Krista Roll
K-5 Teamwork- Succeeding Together! Photo credit: Krista Roll

Think about the inspiring coaches and teammates that you’ve had over the years. If you don’t have that same inspiration and passion to win the Big Game, then make some changes. Your team, whether they are colleagues or students, need a quality coach. Don’t let them down!