Isn't That Special?

05 December 2009

I know it might not look like much, but this binder has a bit of magic in it. Its contents were developed about five years ago, just as my career was making a change and this blog kicked up. I was tasked with getting the secondary science program in the district more, well, program-like. As such, I needed some way to collect and organize the myriad pieces for this process. This bit of cardboard, tape, and file brads was just the thing.

This was my first time to lead this sort of project. If you're so inclined, you can peruse my archives to see how things started, what happened next, anticipating the end, and moving to the next stage. There are other miscellaneous posts that refer to this project, but in many ways, the posts are not the most important documentation or legacy. For a variety of reasons, the binder itself is.

One of the most frustrating things about developing and delivering professional development (PD) is that it is usually only done once. Now, I've sat in on enough bad PD to understand that sometimes, once is more than enough. From a planning standpoint, however, it's kind of a bummer. I typically spend anywhere from three to eight hours planning per hour of delivery. That's a huge investment for something that can only be used once---no matter how large the payoff in whatever product or outcome is created by the group.

But this binder lived on. Once the pieces for moving a group through a standards-based scope and sequence process were in place, others adapted and used it. The binder lived for awhile with the language arts group. It stayed with math and guided them. It even went to another school district for nearly a year while they hashed out the same science issues that we had. After every trip, it made its way home to my file box. From time to time, I pulled out a piece to refer to, but I could never quite bring myself to just disband the item or throw it away.

I even brought it with me to my new job. I'm not sure why I made that choice, when so many of my other tools and products are packed away in the basement. Perhaps I just needed that little bit of magic sitting on the shelf, whispering that I can do this job...and do it well. Or maybe it was a trophy of sorts. It might not mean anything to anyone but me, but it made me smile to see it there.

After more than a year of sitting on a shelf collecting dust, I am pleased to say that the binder is being called back into action for one more tour of duty. There is a new process I'm involved with, and as I started to put materials together, I realized that some of the pieces for the kickoff (e.g. roles/responsibilities, norms...) were sitting a few feet from my desk. It's like working with an old friend---it's comfortable. It's special.

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Poop in a Pile

25 August 2008

As a teacher, a good planbook was usually enough to keep me on track from day to day. Working in a district level job meant becoming accustomed to an Outlook calendar that others could see. I needed a slightly different system for hard copies of information, simply because there were more stakeholders and events I needed to track. And now? It's a whole other ball game with the new job. I still have my Outlook calendar, but now there are several people using it---adding on meetings on my behalf, creating new contact information for me, and so on. I'm not quite as in charge of my own destiny anymore. As for the meetings I attend and the events I am a part of? That is changing, too. There are far more projects to track than ever before...more details than is reasonable to keep in my agenda. So, I'm moving to an index card system for now.

Here is the front and back of what I will use for meetings:

And the front and back for events:

The idea here is that when something pops up my calendar, I can start a card. The cards can either live in a pocket in my agenda, or in a Card Bleacher like this:

They will be easy to carry to meetings or hand off to support staff. And when the meeting/event is done, I can simply archive them in a card box. They'll be ready to pull out at a moment's notice in case there are any questions later on. While I know that all of this could be done digitally, these options are not so simple "in the moment." What I mean is that with a Palm or Apple device, quick notetaking during meetings isn't that easy. I can certainly see that either scanning the cards or taking a photo of them that this then uploaded to Evernote might be another strategy for archiving when all is said and done.

The goal here is to keep my poop in a pile. I have more people than ever counting on me to do so. Perhaps the new tools will help keep the pieces in place. If I find some others along the way, I'll share those, too.


In Case You Were Wondering

29 March 2008

Thursday went very well. The various arenas of my life all seemed to meet up quite nicely, and I have to say I truly enjoyed the side-by-side comparison of the districts I work for.

But first, let me just say that Ryan is as thoughtful and amusing in person as he is on-line. We didn't get to have much in the way of conversation because he had laryngitis (poor man). I did way more talking than he did (again, poor man), but he did bring some really fun pictures of his near 2-year old daughter. What a cutie she is! He's going to be presenting at WERA next year, so get those meetings on your calendar now.

As for my presentation? I SO rocked it. I can't claim that it was well-attended (at least compared to the two sessions I sat in on), but I had a very enthusiastic audience. In fact, I had my own personal cheering section, composed of three people from my afternoon district (including the ass't. supe), excellent questions to discuss, and I only neglected to mention a few ideas from my notes. I have thought about using Slideshare to put a copy of my powerpoint here, but I don't know if it would make all that much sense. I'm not one of those Death by Powerpoint people. I have a brief outline present on the slides to guide discussion---as opposed to using the powerpoint as a text to read aloud to the group.

Anyhoo, as I mentioned mere sentences ago, the ass't. supe of my afternoon district was on hand, which meant that immediately following my presentation (which exceeded the standards), she went into the hallway to make some phone calls on my behalf. While my morning district took more than two months to think about my research proposal for my doctoral study before turning me down, the afternoon district only needed an hour to see what I have to say "Yes." I'm still not officially allowed to research (yet), but I just need to file the paperwork. Other phone calls which will be of help to me were also placed...but I can't talk about those right now. :)

Here are some other interesting things about the experience. My morning school district (where I have worked for 12 years) had about 15 people from various walks-of-education attending the conference. The number of people who came to support me in my session? One---who was really there out of curiosity about grading. (To be fair, I told one friend she didn't need to come to my presentation as she already knew what I would be saying.) The afternoon district (where I have worked for two months) had three people other than me attending. They all came to the presentation to support my efforts. My morning district paid no expenses for me (although they did for their other attendees). My afternoon district? They paid no expenses, either; however, they are going to have me do part of my presentation in some of their schools and will pay me for that in order to reimburse my personal costs for Thursday. When the day was done, the morning district peeps took off for their own devices. The afternooners? They invited me to join them for a frosty beverage and asked me to dinner.

I'd do a Venn for all of this, but there's really not much to there?

In total, it was a long, but very worthwhile, day. I got to shake myself out as an educational researcher. I got to know lots of fun new people. I got my project back on track. And I got to see who loves me, baby. In case you were wondering, I'm doing just fine.

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Ranting and Raving

04 October 2007

This is the 900th post to Ye Olde Blog. A milestone like this probably deserves some profound reflection, but if you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you know that there is very rarely much in the way of deep thinking to be had. This is a place to put my stuff. The modern version of a cabinet of curiosities. I really try not to be negative here very often. Being an educator means that there are plenty of things to gripe about; but for you, readers, it's not much fun to read about---and it's not respectful of the fact that you have your own problems to deal with. "We know that teaching is damned hard work. What else have you got?"

Sometimes, however, I just can't help myself. And this is one of those times.

I'm working in a school which prides itself on its Newsweek Top 500 high schools in America ranking, but whose science WASL scores have gone down every year. In fact, it's the only school in the district who has lost ground each year. It is also the school which consistently has resisted any attempts at professional development. In fact, they brag about how few meetings that they have. Okay---so I'm not interested in having meetings just for the sake of themselves...but when you have achievement issues, shouldn't you be talking about them? Your AP kids might carry weight with Newsweek, but that is only one-third of your student population. What are your plans for the other 1000 kiddos?

There was actually a meeting today---ostensibly to refine the school improvement goals for the year. The science department, as usual, turned out some really poor work. The consistent lack of student achievement is everyone else's fault. "But our AP kids do so well." At this point, I couldn't resist saying "Maybe that's because the curriculum and instruction for those classes is aligned with the assessment."

This comment went over their heads. One teacher thinks the biology textbook is the curriculum ("I can't possibly cover the standards, because the book is too big.") and all sophomores dumb. Another thinks quality instruction involves notes and a worksheet every day. And the other biology teacher thinks the reason that there's such a disparity between what she does in class and the standards as the fault of the state. None of these teachers has any sense of personal responsibility to the students in their classrooms. What happens there is about the teacher, not the kids. And it's that, more than anything, that angers me.

As much as I would like to rant and rave in front of them, I'm not sure it would do any good. We need common expectations---and high ones---for every student (and for ourselves). We need to work at aligning our curriculum, instruction, and assessment. We need to look at and talk about student work. We need to think about interventions for kids who need support. All of that, however, would require meetings. And for a place which loves to brag about how they don't meet, and instead are determined to show others how little intellectual curiosity they actually have, there is little hope of powerful change happening.

I realized in that meeting that it really didn't matter what the department goals were. All I can do is be the best I can for my kids. Each day, I tell them the targets they're aiming for. I give them feedback on their progress toward those targets as often as possible and provide additional support for kids who need it. I tell each and every one of them that I believe that they can achieve the goals that are set for them. And then I teach and coach and cheer them. Shouldn't that be why we're in the classroom?

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Mom Always Said

28 August 2007

This morning, I actually heard a teacher say that the district should implement certain things because it makes common sense in the way her mother described. I managed to avoid a John McEnroe style of meltdown and dramatically claim "You cannot be serious!" Federal requirements mandate (I know that's a dirty word) that the things schools implement have a research base. Somehow, "My momma told me." doesn't quite fit that description.

Other teachers joined in with this rallying cry. "We already know what's best." You know what? I agree with that---to a point. No one knows the students sitting in a classroom better than the teacher. The teacher makes hundreds of decisions each day about how to respond to the needs of the kiddos. Here is where the argument breaks down: not a single teacher making that claim today can also state that all of his or her kids perform at standard. Yes, I understand that learning is incumbent upon the student with the teacher as facilitator---but I can tell you that alone will not explain the deficiencies at that school.

There was a slow burn from the staff to Curriculum. One complaint was that they weren't provided time on the optional curriculum-directed day to collaborate with people in the department of their school. I so wanted to ask this woman, "What part of 'optional' and/or 'curriculum directed' aren't you getting?" She doesn't have to go. She and others are welcome to use that time in other ways. I somehow managed to stifle a laugh when teachers at this school went off about how Curriculum never visits them. Hello? This is the one school in the district whose principal excused the staff from attending every district meeting last year...the one where consistent offers went out for support and were met with "We're fine, thanks."

There were continued comments about how math and science graduation requirements (also blamed on Curriculum) were impeding learning. How selfish is that? Children are held accountable for those standards. We may not like the laws, but you know, we already have our diplomas. The kids do not. Why would any teacher blame other teachers for the fact kids have to take more math and science?

My overall impression today (formed among the 8 additional PowerPoints to yesterday's 9) is that many of the teachers at that school think very small...and are very selfish. I can't deny that my time out of the classroom that has coloured my vision. I tend to look at things in a much more global way these days...and I admit that gives me a bit of an attitude about things. But these experiences make me want to shake some teachers until they rattle. "Wake up! What happens in the classroom is not about you. It's about kids. Every kid...every day. It's okay not to know all of the answers---nobody does. But to claim you do based on the sole observations and experiences behind your classroom door while allowing some kids to fail does not impress anyone."

Then again, maybe their mothers are proud.

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Powerpoint ≠ Good Instruction

27 August 2007

The idea of Death by Powerpoint is not a new one on this blog. Neither is Death by Meeting. Put the two together and you really do give meaning to the term "overkill."

Among all of the back-to-school things today, I sat through no less than eight (8!!!) PowerPoint presentations in 3 hours. I counted them, just to give myself something to do and avoid the urge to poke out my eyes with my pencil, shoot spitwads at the posters on the walls, and bang my head on the table out of frustration. When did PowerPoint become equated with engaging presentations and instruction...and how do we dissuade this unholy alliance from being fostered?

On the positive side of things, I do have to say that only one used every cutesy transition and trick in the book. ("'m begging you...not another fade!" I wanted to cry.)

I really worried, however, that these same people who were up there listing all of the reasons why the school's poop doesn't stink weren't able to model effective instructional techniques. (My favourite quotes from today: "We're light years ahead of every other building in terms of cultural proficiency." and "Oh, that other school is having a big regional meeting so they can figure out how to be less pitiful.")

I know teachers are tired of the same old, same old at the beginning of the year. So, why not mix it up a bit? Why not extend yourself as a presenter and model some diverse and appropriate instruction? Do things to make people excited about coming back to work. As it is, this school seems to be following the maxim of "If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a terrible warning."

Maybe I'll see if I can hide the remotes in the future. :)

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Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

19 January 2007

At some point during a meeting, I like to sit back and watch the action. I pretend I'm a fly on the wall...not part of nor directly involved with what's happening...and just people watch for a few minutes. This is sometimes more difficult to do if I'm leading a meeting as it requires more intuitive and ongoing assessment of things; but as a participant, it's a good mental activity. My goal is really to become more self aware. What are unspoken messages I might be sending through my posture or where I focus my eyes?

I sometimes share my observations with people after the meeting. Not that long ago, I noticed that two of my colleagues (who happened to be sitting side by side) would sit back and cross their arms over their chests each time a particular group member spoke up. Did that person catch on, too---was she conscious of what the unconscious signals were saying to her? I told my two colleagues because I knew that they would laugh at themselves and wouldn't be offended...and also because I know that they don't mean to be ugly, even if they are frustrated with another team member.

Boss Lady 2.0 has a body language all her own, but I am constantly surprised that one of the specialists in our midst is so clueless about picking up on it. Each time this specialist speaks, Boss Lady checks her cell phone, rifles through papers, or gets up. It is very clear to me (and others) that Boss Lady doesn't particularly like or respect this person---but there is no one in the office who sings higher praises of the Boss Lady than this specialist. It is likely a kindness that she is so oblivious. The eye rolls, the shifting in the seat, the side conversations, and other signals Boss Lady 2.0 sends out to us tell such a story. It is part of what is so hard about working for her, but also explains why she so readily throws us under the bus if it will help her look good. She has made up her mind about things and is just waiting around for others to catch on...and heaven help you should you not agree/like the track she's on.

Body language isn't something that anyone can be cognizant of all of the time. I know that there are things I communicate without wanting to, but I am working on being more self-aware. These exercises at meetings help me reflect on my own posture, gestures, and connection with people. I want what I say to be congruent with the unspoken messages of my body talk.

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Death by Meeting

07 October 2006

Communication isn't well done by this district. We think we're small---and we used to be---but we really aren't: 1600 staff and 12,500 students strong. Even in an age of e-mail, internet, and SharePoint, information transfer is often a constipated process. Will more meetings solve any of this?

I now have five regularly scheduled meetings each month that I didn't in the past. Two are individual meetings with Boss Lady 2.0. This is something that I asked for and my guess is that my need for them will ebb and flow with the rhythms of the school year. I didn't have this arrangement with the previous Boss Lady and it did impede some things. Ah, but now there is a Curriculum staff meeting once a month with those of us who work at Central Office (and a quarterly one involving the addition of classified staff and literacy coaches). There is also an elementary specialists' meeting and a secondary specialists' meeting...smaller affairs for those of us who are most directly involved with curriculum in classrooms. (The Curriculum staff meeting also involves the techs and library services staff.)

I understand the need for these discussions. As odd as it may sound, just because we all work in the same office, we don't necessarily know what is happening with different grade levels and content areas (I told you...communication isn't our strong suit.). But will there really be enough to talk about that would fill these 8 hours or so of meetings each month?

There are three and a half more work weeks this month...and I have only a single day left that is unscheduled with one meeting or another. Don't forget, I'm off to schools to work with beginning teachers, coach science staff, and more. I am starting to live in fear that I'll have so many meetings that the really important things I want and need to do for students and teachers can't get done. It is already starting to feel that way.

I am not an all hat and no cattle sort of person. If there is something to be done---let's it get done. I think that has been key in developing the relationships that I have with teachers. I worry that too many meetings will be the death of that. I plan to be vigilant here this first month as we test the waters with this schedule. I won't hesitate to pull the plug on meetings before they pull the plug on my program.


Setting the Table

26 August 2006

It's that time of year---the time when teachers collectively moan about all of the back-to-school meetings that take up the precious time and headspace they have before the kids arrive for the year. Common complaints include not being treated as professionals (How many cutesy icebreakers does one have to endure?), useless information (Who cares about the changes to the bus schedule as long as the kids still get here?), and conversations that go nowhere (Do we have to spend 30 minutes talking about the tardy policy...again?).

Meetings are often poorly executed, too. I can't remember all of the times I sat there marvelling that these were the only days all year that the principals had to plan and deliver, and yet they were terrible. What kind of modelling was that?

This is my fourth year serving as a Curriculum Specialist, which means that parts of these days are my responsibility, too. I am spending my weekend putting the finishing touches on the table I'm setting...for 300 people. I'm feeling pretty good at this point about the elementary day, which is when I'll have seven different presentations running simulataneously (yes, I have help). There are still plenty of reasons why things could go sideways. The curriculum will be brand new for teachers and we only get two hours to present it. The day is optional, which means that we'll likely have ~70% attendance.

The day for secondary science is starting to shape up, but I still have a long way to go. These teachers are fussy eaters, so making the table appealing is never simple. My 7 - 9 group has more training on their new curriculum and should be pretty happy and busy. The 10 - 12 group still prefers to think of themselves as independent contractors---there's not a lot of cohesiveness to draw upon.

My goals on these days are to avoid the things teachers hate the most about professional development days. So, there's nothing cute, we're packing in as many useful and directly applicable to the classroom pieces as we can, and focused agendas to keep conversations moving along. I'm hoping for good appetites on these days---a hunger for things which will improve student learning and make life in the classroom simpler. I'll do what I can to salt the oats.

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So what's the answer?

22 March 2006

My work day concluded with an ugly meeting. I suppose it could be argued that there aren't many meetings that are pleasant, but I knew this one would have several riled up teachers---and there were in their frothy state because of the upcoming changes to the district's junior high science program.

When we started the process of scope and sequence in the district last year, we knew that the outcomes wouldn't be popular with everyone. Any increase in science would mean a decrease elsewhere. Teachers' jobs and various programs were on the line. We were not insensitive to that, but the reality is that we have to remain student-centered. As long as our decisions were based on what best serves the needs of kids, we knew we could make the right choices.

But now all of those recommendations are becoming a reality, and the World Languages teachers in our district are finally realizing that some students will no longer have room in their schedules to take those classes in 8th grade. Not only does that impact the program at that end, but also at the senior level. Kids who don't start the sequence at the right time will unlikely be able to take AP level.

I heard a lot today about the college bound kid and how these new requirements would "squeeze" them. That may well be true. But the bottom line is that 100% of the students have to meet the standards in science. At best, 25% of our students enter college and university. And you know what? It's highly unlikely that the 25% is going to be comprised of kids who have to take remedial math, English, and science courses and therefore have no room in their schedules for electives.

Meanwhile, adding a zero period or seventh hour option costs (on average) $12K per year because of the way schools are funded. The state provides money for 5 classes per day per kid. We already offer 6. If a kid takes 7, we really are at a budget loss. Or, what if you don't cut one elective program (like World Languages)? If you make it a requirement, too, then you've only shifted the problem of staffing over to another subject area.

What's the answer? What doesn't cost money, make issues for other content areas, and still provides what kids need in order to graduate? I don't know that we had any particular solutions today. I hope that the World Languages' teachers will think about things some more and see what creative ideas they have. I understand their frustration and also why their classes benefit students. But I also know the realities we have to deal with in terms of accountability issues. There just can't be a happy ending for everyone.

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Gun Shy

31 January 2006

Last month, I sorta worked with a group of teachers. I say "sorta," because even though I was charged with arranging subs and planning out the day, once people were there, the meeting got hijacked.

The next meeting is scheduled for a week from today. Once again, I've arranged subs and have been asked to build the agenda. I'm not finding any particular enthusiasm for the task this time. I'm worried about getting burned again.

The department chair is planning on being there and I'm not thrilled by this prospect...but there isn't anything I can do about it, either. He admits that his agenda is driven by developing a document he could hand any incoming teacher so that they'd know what our biology curriculum is. This is not a bad goal---but it also doesn't do anything to effect a change about what happens in the classroom. He admits that no one thought the last meeting was valuable, although each person had a different reason for that.

So, I don't know what I'll be blogging about next Tuesday. I suppose I have to just keep my fingers crossed that I can get excited about planning this meeting...and then being allowed to carry it through.


End of Round One

27 January 2006

Today marked the end of the first semester. I have had so much on my plate the last two weeks that it was Tuesday before I really realized that we were wrapping up the first half of the year. There are times that I truly don't know where the time goes.

I had five meetings today...originally scheduled for four separate locations. One of the meetings was moved and so I only have to appear in three places. I liked the first three meetings of the day---each one was with just one teacher. It is good to have some time to sit down and talk about their individual needs. The third teacher was the one who had me come and do some "bubbleology" with her kids. She had had them take an assessment this week so that we could see how much of the science process piece they've internalized during our work this year. We feel pretty hopeful in looking at the responses. The vast majority of kids seem to get it, but they don't understand what the prompt is asking them to write. This is fixable...and we have three more months until the WASL. We can help them learn how to better show what they know.

Representatives of the area consortium arrived back in Curriculum and I scurried back for meeting number four. They did little more than reinforce the view that they are incompetent when it comes to fulfilling the science needs of our district (and others). These are not dumb people, mind you, it's just that they haven't a clue how to tackle the tasks that need completion for elementary science.

Finally, I got to sit with the other specialists and the Boss Lady and talk about ways to streamline the way we provide information to principals and teachers. I really think that we'll be able to create something wonderful.

There was lots of other good news today. My heart is light this Friday as I look forward to a three-day weekend...and round (semester) two of the school year.


Building a Better Monster

10 January 2006

I had an amazingly good meeting today. I had sweated this one a bit, because I don't feel like I have a good grasp on elementary...let alone elementary science. This group I am working with is trying to select some materials to go with the standards assigned to sixth grade.

Conversations were rich today. People want to make connections between the materials, standards, assessments, and the way these are reported to parents and students. The teachers see how the possibilities in using the science materials to set up their reading and writing goals for the day. We have much more work to do, but there was some fabulous groundwork laid. I actually left work today with far more energy than I had when I went in this morning. I wish that happened more often.

If you've been lurking around this blog, you know that my district has several other significant concerns about the elementary science program we are using (FOSS). Teachers today described doing an alignment with it as "putting round pegs in square holes." Our regional science consortium is wanting us to send teachers again this spring to continue this process. I wasn't so sure this was in our best interests even before today's comments. This group's recommendation? Go through the process we are using now for grades 3 - 5.

This is a monstrous suggestion. Brilliant, but very problematic.

You see, we have to be ready to make a decision by next week as to whether or not to leave the consortium. If we do, then we have to completely outfit our district for elementary science. If we stay with FOSS, it would be doable. If we don't, well...what is the plan, then? Can we get it outlined in a week?

The truth is that I want to open this can of worms, as ugly as it is. The teachers today were right (in my opinion) to raise this issue. I think we can build a better monster than FOSS to help students reach the standards in science. I just wish we had more time to think through the options.

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Sanity Prevails...For Now

14 December 2005

I had the second meeting with my grades 7 - 9 materials' adoption group today. I was a little uncertain about things going into this meeting. This is a good group, but it's hard for any teacher (myself included) to get away from the "sexy" things the publishers send and focus on what we really need to look for.

Using some tools I found on our state education website and something that our district math god developed, I created a "deep alignment" tool. The alignment was specific to student tasks (worksheets, end of chapter questions, labs, activities, etc.). The "deep" part refers to...
  • Content--What knowledge, skills, processes, or concepts does the task address?
  • Context---How is this information presented, practiced, and then tied to other skills/learning?
  • Cognitive Demand---Does the task require ask students to demonstrate the same level of thinking as required by the standard?

The grade level groups of teachers picked two of their GLEs and then set out with the three curricula they'd selected for further review to do some deep alignment. The outcome was quite magical. It made it painfully obvious just which materials would support students to meet the standards. The conversations that teachers had were really interesting for me. And several of them actually thanked me for using this approach to things today and mentioned how meaningful it had been.

That's the good news. We have some wonderful materials to pilot later this winter and we feel confident about the quality of the curricula.

The bad news is that we will be seriously over budget if we get these. The student books alone will be $30,000 more than we have been allotted...never mind the support materials for teachers. And this doesn't take into account the needs for grade 6. Teachers were a bit depressed to discover this at the end of our day today, but we'll just see what happens.

For now, I'm just going to be happy that the work was productive and meaningful and that we're on track for making an enormous impact on what happens in science classrooms. I'll worry about getting the extra $100,000 tomorrow.

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One Step Forward, Two Giant Leaps Backward

08 December 2005

I had a meeting yesterday. Sort of. You see, I'd been asked to hold this meeting. I arranged for subs to cover the teachers and spent several hours planning for it. Other staff at central office stayed late to gather data for me, made accommodations in terms of timing, and provided other help.

And when I arrived on Tuesday morning, the entire thing had been hijacked.

The teachers were the biology crew from my school. This was not the first meeting this year and there have been a few growing pains in the meantime. It's not simple to automatically move to a standards-based curriculum, but at least we'd had a start.

My department chair had been asked to be there by the other teachers. I had some reservations about this as I know that our priorities are different. He wants teachers to be happy. This is not a bad goal---I like it. But I also want students to learn what they need to, not just teachers teach what they want to. So, he had the teachers for ~90 minutes before I got there after my class.

So much good work was undone. Now they were back to planning out of the textbook, going chapter by chapter. What do we want to teach here? I tried to get things back on track, but the five of them were unwilling to budge. Why should they? They had what they wanted: permission to just keep doing what they'd always been doing.

Another colleague arrived a little over an hour later. He is of a similar mind to me in terms of what our jobs are as teachers. He, too, tried to get the group out of the textbook and back to the standards. But it was no good.

The day was a complete waste: of sub time and my time. Not a single thing happened that will make an impact on what happens in the classroom.

I'm not sure what the future will hold for this group. I can't supply them with subs anymore if this is the direction they want to take. And I certainly want nothing to do with another meeting with the department chair present. I know that the teachers want more time to "plan," but until they're ready to focus on instruction and kids, there's no point in me being there.

The really depressing thing is that this was one group that was at least open to looking at the curriculum from a kid's perspective---but they've given up because it's more comfy to do what they want. There are six other secondary science staffs that I will have to "move" to standards-based...hopefully with better results.

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Round One

15 November 2005

Today was the first day of science materials' adoption meetings. We looked at curricula for grades 7 - 9. It was a long day.

The morning started off all right. We talked about some general issues and then started looking at the standards. One group was way off task right away---already pulling texts out of boxes. I tried explaining (again) that we were going to establish criteria first so that we knew what we were looking for...but I had to go back once more after that and take books out of their hands.

It not that I don't understand their excitement. It's cool to have new stuff. But we have certain responsibilities in this process and I didn't want the teachers making decisions based solely on the layout of the text or a review they'd read.

Anyway, everyone managed to finish looking at the standards and we moved on to other criteria. These included things like the types of assessments provided, the kinds of work students would do, etc. It is hard for people to take a global view. I include myself in that observation. Teachers today were really more focused on how they as individuals would use the materials, when really they're just representatives for a wide range of current and future staff.

The late morning and most of the afternoon were devoted to doing a quick paper screen of the available materials. There was a lot to look at---maybe eight programs per grade level. Teachers had a terrible time staying on the primary task, which was to identify standards-based resources.

There wasn't as much diversity of materials as you might guess. Most were traditional text-based programs. This doesn't mean that they're bad, but it's what we have now and it's not developing things as we would like. What interested me is that publishers have put a lot of effort into the resources teachers have (e.g. PowerPoint presentations at the ready), but very little into changing how the student interacts with the material. There were a couple of programs that were at the other end of the spectrum---completely inquiry based. As nice as that idea sounds, there isn't enough "meat" there to dig into. I don't know if we'll be able to find a happy medium or not.

At the end of the day, each grade level team had whittled things down to three choices. We will look at these more in depth next time. I am not sure how it all will pan out. My guess is that we will end up with something more traditional---a text based program. But if it supports student investigation into inquiry, along with helping teachers craft this, then I think that's okay.

We'll meet again in another month. In the meantime, I have a lot of thoughts to organize about (re)directing things.

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When Is Group Process Better Than Just Me?

08 November 2005

I made an executive decision recently regarding the upcoming materials adoption process. I've decided not to have the group set the criteria. Time will tell as to whether or not this was a wise choice on my part.

Most of the time these adoption cycles start up, a committee meets, hashes out what the philosophy of things should be and develops associated criteria. Then they go look for programs to match the criteria. I do feel as if this would be a valuable process. Why am I throwing it out? Because we have standards now. We are told what to look for in terms of curriculum and what students whould be able to demonstrate with their work. We are not provided with whatever the best instructional approach is, but this needn't be a lengthy discussion point.

I have adapted a process used by BSCS. We'll have five categories: content, work students do, work teachers do, assessment, and other (cost, material/technology needs, etc.). I have described indicators for each (which reviewers will rate on a scale from 0 - 5 in terms of their presence/quality in the materials) and weighted the categories. I'm hoping that the group will swallow all this without a fuss.

What I haven't done is limit the materials they are allowed to look at. I have nearly 8 different programs for each grade level. There are "traditional" textbook programs...newer unit-based versions...and still other programs that are more concept and inquiry-based. I'm hoping that the group will pick the "concept/inquiry" stuff. You may be thinking that I rigged the rubric in order to make those rise to the top, but I really haven't. Even if I'm directing the criteria, I want teachers to be able to go back to their buildings and tell their cohorts that they had a chance to look at as many different options as we could find---and why we rejected the ones we did. I don't want any "Central Office wouldn't let us..." comments floating around for the next umpty-squat years.

Still, I wonder if I should make the process more open concerning the establishment of the criteria. One of the biggest factors in my decision is really just that of time. Being able to schedule and pay for subs is not easy or cheap. Would I rather have us focus on making the criteria or selecting good materials? Materials wins out in my mind.

We will meet one week from today. I have a bit more time to stew and adjust plans as necessary. I think I've made the right choice.

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Shaking My Head

20 October 2005

I went to the meeting today---the one that I was worried about on Tuesday. The good news is that there was little to no pooping on the junior highs. The bad news? Oh, where to begin.

First of all, what is so difficult about reading e-mail? I understand that some messages/senders have a higher priority than others. I know that not everything is fun to read. After all the communications about Scope and Sequence last year, how could no one at the other high school admit to having seen them? (Although I know that one read some information in May...that was sent in March.) How could it be that after sending several pieces of e-mail this year which referred to the information on the staff intranet that this same staff was ignorant? And gee, getting Curriculum Subs for some release time? I pointed out that I sent their (the high school's) department chair a list of dates just yesterday. Oh, and at least twice in the last month, I asked him if he would like to coordinate Common Planning Time schedules with other schools. All the other schools responded with a "yes" and sent their information. This school? No answer...but the feeder schools wonder why. All of these issues could have been resolved via e-mail weeks and months ago.

There is an interest in a post-test at 9th grade. I'm not completely against this idea, I just think it's putting the cart before the horse. We haven't implemented the plans we've made yet. Why not see what a difference that makes---along with making passing the state test mandatory for graduation---before we lump in yet another assessment? Meanwhile, there wasn't a clear picture about how this information would be used.

Remediation came up. This is a good topic worth exploring. But again, we haven't put the plans in place to address the problems in general. Why talk about remediating when kids haven't even had an opportunity to work with the curriculum once?

I provided some data that I hope at least some people will look at and think about. When there are no African-American students in any advanced science classes---and almost none of them are passing the science WASL---there's a major issue. And that's just one example. Maybe we need to focus on which kids aren't getting an opportunity, rather than those we assume "can't."

Anyway, I am still a bit aggravated over the whole deal...from start to finish. But I will have to let it all go for now and focus my energies elsewhere. I can't make people read their e-mail. I can't make them consider the handouts. I can't make them look at data critically. Instead, I have to concentrate on what I can guide and provide input.

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Physics Defying Poop

18 October 2005

Perhaps you've heard that "S--t rolls downhill"? Not on my watch, it doesn't.

I received an interesting call this morning. It appears that a high school in my district has invited the science departments of its "feeder" schools over on Thursday afternoon for a little meeting. Along with the invitation, an enormous packet was provided. The idea was to have the schools inventory their topic coverage (using a rubric) and bring it to the meeting.

On the surface, all of this seems rather benign. But there are several things that bother me here. I wasn't asked about any of this until today---even though the meeting has been planned for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the school that is initiating the meeting is the one school that thinks that they have all their poop in a pile (and that it doesn't stink). This meeting can quite easily turn into a "bash the junior high" sort of event. In addition to this, the whole packet is pretty much moot. We did this work as a district last spring. If teachers at this other school read their e-mail, they would know all of this (as well as the "fixes" to problems that are on the horizon).

It is possible that the staff at the high school wants to know where the gaps in coverage have been so that they can do some "backfill." The problem with this thinking is that content (physics, chemistry, biology) is only 40% of the assessment. Most of it is process. Just talking content with kids isn't going to cut it.

So, I made copies of the test show teachers on Thursday where the emphasis of the assessment (and therefore our instruction) is. I also pulled huge amounts of data. Because the more important question is which kids aren't succeeding...not what is or isn't being taught in terms of content. I plan to go armed with several items in order to diffuse any poo-flinging on Thursday. I am not letting anyone pick on those junior high teachers.

I know that scores aren't as pretty as we all would like. I know that we would all like to make that change. But the "blame game" isn't going to help get us there.

Ah, the joys of Goddess-dom. And just wait until I tell you how the word "Earth" caused me to lose several hours of valuable time.

Update: See the results of the meeting here. And you can read about the meeting after the meeting here.

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My Aching Head

08 October 2005

I started geting some nasty headaches earlier this year. This seems to be one of those weekends where I'm under siege again. Between the pain and meds, I'm both nauseated and sleepy. I'm never sure where these things come from. I had wonderful day yesterday.

The teachers from my school who teach biology got together to talk about a variety of things. Everyone has some differences in how they approach the content, but teaching is not a "one size fits all" sort of proposition. I liked sitting back and watching the energy ebb and flow between someone could start an idea and another take off and run with it. There were some things that we didn't get to that I felt were rather important. I would have liked to talk more about how we know whether or not a student can meet the standard. In my mind, that seems the most logical place to begin. If we don't know what the end point will be when we see it, how can we plan to get kids there? Just planning activities/lessons that we think are more standards-based isn't really any different from what we've done before. The conversation never led that way.

Was it my role to make sure that it did? I don't know. This group is motivated and I feel like my presence is pretty superfluous. That's a wonderful thing. I can think about spending more time with groups of teachers who aren't to that point yet. And I'm not interested in putting my foot down in this case---as if I have all the magical answers to getting kids to meet the standards. The teachers yesterday are all intelligent people who care about kids. I think it's good for me to trust that they can find the path that's best (and that they're comfortable with).

I have another group of teachers that I'm working with in another week or so. My impression is that they aren't quite as far along in their thinking as yesterday's bunch---but that they would like to be. It may be that they will need more from me.

My hope is that I can help most---if not all---secondary schools get started on this process of aligning standards with instruction. Once they're off and running, there are 13 elementary schools to help, some of which are calling for me now. But I feel like getting the Recommendations approval by the School Board (the meeting will be Wednesday), necessary materials to teachers, and instructional methods will allow me to fade away from secondary. They can take the ball and run with it. That's kind of a nice thought to keep me company as I duke it out with my headache today.

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When will the madness end? (Retirement?)

17 May 2005

I was supposed to have a 4-hour meeting today with the math curriculum specialist and the literacy specialist in order to look at areas where standards in our various specialties overlap. The idea is to help "unburden" elementary teachers by showing them that if they're teaching something like "organizing information," that such a skill can be found in all areas. They needn't memorize all three sets of standards (with more on the way). Meanwhile, secondary teachers tend to be too compartmentalized. "I'm a math teacher...why should I give a rip about the reading standards...that's the English department's job." Putting together a document linking some of the big ideas might start some meaningful dialogue between teachers at that level.

But, we're all meeting-ed out. It's the end of the year and all three of us are beyond the definition of "overworked" and regardless of what the calendar shows, it seems there's no end in sight. So, we chatted about some ideas for an hour and called it good. We did come up with a fantastic idea to use...and I'll be the one to flesh it out. After all, next school year is only 3 months away.

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13 May 2005

Yesterday was the culminating event of some planning I have been involved with all year. It was our accreditation visit. I'm not sure how important accreditation is anymore, even though schools still jump the hoops. I wonder if colleges and universities really do check to see if applicants are coming from schools that are "accredited."

Anyway, we have been running the requisite obstacle course this year. A variety of staff members from around our district, some local businessmen, and a couple of teachers from other towns came together to have a look at our school yesterday. They were "evaluating" us on our progress regarding the overall school improvement plan we developed seven (!) years ago, along with our yearly goals.

When I started seeing and talking to people right before lunch, I wasn't sure how things were going. And the more I chatted with our visitors, the more I worried that our school wasn't looking too good. There were lots of comments about how unengaged kids much "down time" there seemed to be throughout classrooms. We did have a ton of subs in the building yesterday, so that may have had something to do with a lack of "bell-to-bell" instruction throughout the building. I felt a little embarrassed. I know our school is far from perfect, but I like to think we're not too bad, either.

I hauled my carcass up to the principal's office this morning to see what the comments were. I felt better after reading them. There were lots of "commendations" and also some very good "recommendations." The Principal is his usual clueless self. So, I've been asked to advise him how to process the information with staff. I have to admit that my heart isn't too far into the task. Now that I am seeing myself in more of a district role than teacher role, my pure allegiances to my school are waning. It's time for someone else to step up.

More on that idea tomorrow.


Is it Friday yet?

12 May 2005

The past two days have had me on the run. My classes are involved in all manner of things. Yesterday, I had another 3-hour after school planning session for the biology curriculum at our school. Today was the day for our school's accreditation visit. By the end of my teaching day, I'd had 3 visitors...then had to run and set up their lunch...and answer more questions. I had a 1 p.m. meeting with the Boss Lady regarding my role for next year and then a 2 - 4 p.m. meeting with other curriculum specialists to plan the August back-to-school days. And there is no end to the madness. The next two weeks look as bad or worse as these past two.

I know: bitch, bitch, bitch.

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Hurdle #1

26 April 2005

Yesterday was the first "test" of the science scope and sequence Recommendations. Some of us from the group met with the principals of the junior high schools in the district. Originally, we were going to present to all of the principals---as there will be some minor changes to all schools---but it is the junior highs who will have the biggest changes to make.

I had a hard time telling how the meeting went. Principals tend to play their cards pretty close to the vest, and with good reason. They have a lot of different interests to consider. They're the ones who will bear the brunt of any criticism from staff, parents, and students.

Any concerns that were raised were things we had anticipated. There are some serious issues concerning appropriate facilities at two schools. These same schools will also have the greatest loss of teachers from elective areas. Some of these problems can be overcome (with money). Others may solve themselves due to teacher retirements or teachers with multiple certifications who can be shifted into new positions. But there will definitely be wailing and gnashing of teeth along the way. I don't like that. I'm not one of these people who thrives on conflict. It would be nice if change gave everyone a real Kumbayah kind of reaction, but that's not how the world works.

The Boss Lady, however, nicely told the principals that these Recommendations would be put in place. And whatever grief it causes their schools we will help address, but the goal will remain the same. She asked them what their needs were, what sort of timeline they would like, and offered support in talking with staff. (On a side note, I'm real excited about the prospect of going to the junior high where my ex works---as an electives area teacher---and talking about possible decreases to their jobs.)

Overall, I think the discussion went well. It's just going to take some time for the process to happen and the picture become more clear. In the meantime, I'm hoping the Boss Lady has room in the budget for some chain mail lingerie for me. I think I may need it.



12 April 2005

The scope and sequence team didn't end up getting to present today. Many principals were away recruiting for job openings...but only 1 had told the Boss Lady that they would be away today. So, the group wordsmithed our recommendations, added a significant amount of data and research, dealt with a few other "clean-up" details, and called it a day around 11:30. I can't even begin to describe how positive everyone is about the work.

The Boss Lady did stop by toward the end in order to debrief the group about their work. I enjoyed hearing their enthusiasm as they talked about the plan we've created and their support for it. Considering the variety of strong personalities (few of whom knew each other when we started), it is amazing to me to have sailed through this process.

Since principals were unavailable today, we'll find an after school time within the next month to talk to them. They'll need some time to think about the impact the recommendations will have on their buildings and give us some feedback. I'm hoping that we can get these to the school board in the early fall. In order to get new course proposals in the catalog, things have to be ready by December. I will have many people helping me shepherd these items through the hoops. I feel very grateful for that.

It is doubtful that we will meet much resistance along our path. I truly don't think that principals, the superintendent, or school board will not support us. Resistance will come at a few buildings from other teachers. Why? Because if science increases its needs for student time, someone else's program---and job---will decrease. I'm sure that if I was the one on the fuzzy end of the lollipop in this scenario that I'd make some noise. Sometimes parents can also be less than enthused. More requirements means fewer elective opportunities. What happens when you've spent several grand for a cello and now there's no room in the kid's schedule for orchestra? That being said, we are only asking that 2 out of 4 junior highs increase their science classes by a semester at both the 8th and 9th grade levels. If the other 2 schools have figured out a way to offer full-year science for those grades, then there must be a generally satisfying answer.

Change never happens on a dime, does it?

My position as (almost) full-time science goddess was confirmed today. The Boss Lady has funding for .8 of it. She believes that she can come up with the last 20% somehow...but one of my building admins is pushing to have me teach 1 period: AP Biology. I really wouldn't mind this. I like the curriculum and love the kids. It does make things slightly more complicated (vs. teaching no classes) in terms of subs and other demands. I told the Boss Lady that I'm very excited about this opportunity---and I am. Doing this work for the district is quite challenging and I appreciate being asked to stretch myself in new directions.

I went to lunch with three of the Scope and Sequence members. I really enjoyed being out and getting to know them better. We talked some about our work. How do we get "reluctant" teachers on board? What about teachers who won't follow the sequence? Can we get all of this in place for 2006 - 2007? How do we navigate building level politics?

I don't know all of the answers to these questions. Heck, I'm making up this job as I go along. But I do have a very good sense that it is going to work out...somehow. (What's my evidence for that?!)

I came home early...had a lovely nap...and now it is time to get back to work for the evening. Cheers.

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The Grand Finale

11 April 2005

District Scope and Sequence planning ends tomorrow. We'll polish up our recommendations and bring out the data. I've heard that the one of the Superintendent's favourite phrases is "What's your evidence for that?" Fair enough. If he throws down the gauntlet, we'll be ready to show why full year science is needed at each grade level and each school.

We've been told that tomorrow's presentation is simply "informal," but even so, I'd like to make as many friends as possible for our cause.

I talked to some of my students today about this work. One kid had asked if biology was going to be required of incoming students---because he hadn't had it and had struggled on the state science test a couple of years ago. So, I gave him (and the others) a rather long-winded explanation of our current scope and sequence process. They seemed to appreciate it.

It was really good to be back at school with the kids again. They are so good at boosting my energy and enthusiasm---even though I felt physically exhausted by the end of the day. Speaking of, other thoughts in my head will just have to wait until tomorrow.

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Group Dynamics

31 March 2005

I got to attend a workshop today on "group dynamics": how to facilitate a meeting, what to do with people that tell you you're full of crap, and how to encourage teacher leadership. Mind you, this is all information that I could have used a long time ago, but better late than never.

A lot of the information was focused on non-verbal cues: where you stand in a room (and when you sit), how to point (palms up or down), how to physically position your body so that the inflection in your voice changes. Pretty interesting stuff.

We have two more trainings on these ideas and I'm really looking forward to them. It's nice to go someplace, get good information, and feel energized when you leave.

But one of the nicer things was simply feeling "included" in the work the Curriculum department does. Should I transition full-time to that office next year, the people I will spend the most time with are the ones I sat with today. There is certainly a whole set of different "group dynamics" from the crowd I typically run with. I liked that a lot. I liked the discussion and the kind of thinking about student learning that was shared. I liked seeing the expertise of different people coming into play as we moved through the training.

The week has been a whirlwind. Scope and sequence on Tuesday...WASL tutoring all day Wednesday...textbook adoption and training today. It's going to be so nice to get to tomorrow and the beginning of Spring Break. I need some time to breathe and recharge for the final quarter of the year.

I'm enjoying the comments people are posting here this week. I do plan to address some of the things that have been asked, as I'm anxious to join in the conversation.

One last thing before I call it a night...I learned a new term today: "LJ." Probably everyone knows what this is but me. However, if you're as clueless as I was when my AP kids said it this morning, it stands for "Live Journal," (a/k/a "blog"). It's one way that they're keeping up with one another---and I'd be interested in reading a couple. I have to wonder if any of them would be interested in this one.

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It's done. I think.

29 March 2005

Today, the Scope and Sequence committee managed to hash out our decisions and write the recommendations. I felt really good about our work. We had good data and other research to base our work upon and I believe that it will be implemented.

One of the biggest items was recommending full-year science for grades 7, 8, and 9. Maybe this doesn't sound like such a big thing, but it means that (a) increasing our program means someone else's will decrease...and a teacher or two may lose their jobs and (b) we need more rooms and teachers. Those aren't cheap.

The other high priced decision was that related to materials. We will need new textbooks and/or modules for grades 6 - 9. The Director has already committed to budgeting for these next year, but it's still a big requirement.

I have e'd the minutes and our recommendations to The Director. I'm hoping to have some feedback very soon, because we're anxious to present these to the School Board for approval.

A goddess' work is never done.

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Down to the Nut Cuttin' Time

28 March 2005

Having grown up in West Texas, I often heard the phrase, "It's gettin' down to the nut cuttin' time." This came from the cattle industry. And at particular times of the year when the calves were starting to grow up, decisions had to be made about which were to become steers, and which would be left a bull. The euphemism referred to any situation where it was time to make some hard decisions.

Tomorrow will be full of those sorts of things. It is our third---and perhaps final---Scope and Sequence meeting. (See Parts I and II for more details.) We will be making some hard and fast decisions tomorrow about what sort of standards-based science courses we'll be offering in the future. Will we increase our courses to two semesters---even though it means teachers in other areas will lose jobs due to the decreased enrollment in their programs? Will we ask the district to spend money to bring in and set up portable buildings for those schools that don't have space for more science classes? Will we choose an "integrated" format for delivering content or stick with a more traditional and discipline-based program? I have my hunches as to what the answers to the questions (and others) will be, but they're not my decision. They belong to the whole committee.

I have been working on guiding this process since October, and it is nice to contemplate that tomorrow, it will be finished. Mind you, it's just a stepping off point to the next phase in building our science program. I feel, however, that I have been able to develop a lot of skills to use in the future. I have also strengthened my ties with the various schools in our district---I may even have a fan or two in each school. This would make future endeavours so much simpler.

So, tomorrow, it's nut-cuttin' time. For awhile, I worried that mine (in terms of credibility) would the ones lost. Now I think that whatever happens, the kids will definitely win.

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Scope and Sequence, Round 2

08 March 2005

Today was the second (of four) meetings developed to address Scope and Sequence needs for secondary science in my district. It's my task as District Science Goddess to figure out how to do this important, but daunting process. So far, I'm pleased...but exhausted.

People came today with positive energy and good expectations. They came ready to participate and discuss. I was pleasantly surprised.

The major task of the day was to let them do some research/discovery. It's one thing for me to get out and learn some things and try to share it with staff. It's quite another for them to find out for themselves. I got to see several "A-ha!" moments today, which is usually something I only get to see with students. I was also thrilled to see their interest in future collaborations for developing units to use across the district. If I can rally support from that from the admin side of things, we can build an amazing program.

The group would really have liked to have started making some decisions today about what to do, but I held them back. I had two reasons for this. First of all, we only have 11 of the 50+ science teachers represented at these meetings. To not give everyone an opportunity for input would be disastrous. There's plenty of time to make decisions and recommendations at the next meetings. And secondly, it might be a very long time before the district affords us another opportunity like this. We shouldn't make any quick decisions---because whatever we do, we will have to live with it for a long time. I didn't want any of us waking up tomorrow going, "Oh my gawd...what have we done?!"

I now have three week respite between meetings. I'm sure that the time will pass all too quickly and that once again, I'll be a bundle of nerves before the meeting and (hopefully) end the day with a smile. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

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One Down...Three to Go

22 February 2005

Today was the big day: the first day of Scope and Sequence planning.

Department chairs from every secondary school in the district, along with a few other teachers, convened at central office today in order to begin work on developing a curriculum based on the state standards. We will have 3 more meetings this year in order to look at what we're doing, where we want to be, and create a plan to get there.

I had asked for support for these meetings in October---so the planning has been a significant part of my district contract since then. I've been very nervous about the whole thing. It is one thing to step into a classroom with 30 teenagers...and quite another to go into a room with 12 adults and lead them through heavy duty professional development and decision making. I think the teens are more fun. But my audience for the day was very supportive and positive. I feel much more at ease with things and am excited about our work.

There are a lot of reasons to not like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is also known as "No Child Left Behind." Some parts of it are unreasonable and unrealistic for schools in terms of student achievement. But the good of it is simply that it has forced schools to look at what they're doing. Shouldn't children from poor families have the same classroom opportunities as those from wealthier ones? Shouldn't black children be able to achieve at the same level as whites? Shouldn't boys and girls have the chance to perform at the same level? Until now, schools would likely have said "yes" to all these questions, but they would not have had any particular motivation to make sure that equity in education happened. They do now. All students are going to be assured of the opportunity to learn quality curriculum. Whether or not they will all achieve proficiency is the big question.

Anyway, the committee I am in charge of this spring is tasked with making the standards "real" for all kids, regardless of which school they attend or which teacher they have. There will be a great deal more work beyond this, but it's nice to know that I will have company on the road ahead.

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Of Parents and Conventions

19 January 2005

Ah, the life of a Science Goddess. And, oh, the frustrations of Blogger when your post is eaten and you have to try to recapture your thoughts.

It's been an incredibly busy two days this week.

Last night, we held an information session for parents about how they could help their kids "Spank the Standards" on our state assessment. We have about 400 sophomore students at our school, all of whom will be taking the tests. We sent invitations via postcard to all of their families. We also invited parents of 9th graders who will be coming to our school. Passing the tests is more critical for them, because if they don't, they can't graduate. We also extended an invitation to Juniors and their families, as those students can elect to retake the tests for better scores. The scores appear on their transcripts, even if they aren't required for graduation. And, we even advertised the event in the local paper. So, let's say that 1000 families were invited to attend.

We had representatives from 4 of them.

I really could go off on a rant here...and perhaps will at some point in this merry blog...but I refuse to believe that parents aren't interested in the education of their children. I have to think that whatever we're doing to encourage parent participation just isn't cutting it. Why is it so hard to get parents of teens to engage more with the school? I know that kids don't always think it's "cool" to have mom and/or dad show up at school...but at a parent night, the kids need not even show up. Nobody has to know whose parents are whose.

Anyway, I got home about 9, had a few hours of sleep, and then took the bus to the ferry...across the sound to the big city for a 2-day conference. I went to three sessions today, one of which was wonderful. I slept through about half of the third one, but by that point, I already knew I wasn't going to miss anything.

Meanwhile, I've left my charges in the hands of a substitute (a/k/a "guest") teacher. That is always a real crapshoot. In this state, they have to be certificated teachers...people who are actually licensed to be in a classroom. But let me tell ya', in most cases, it's pretty easy to see why they don't get a permanent position. Most are unorganized...they don't follow the plan that is left...I've had several that don't like kids and are rude to my students. The one I usually get these days is a retired teacher from our building. He's deaf as a post and proceeds to fill the kids' heads with a lot of misinformation...because he doesn't bother to stay current. Ugh.

Due to my Science Goddess position, I'm out of the classroom a lot more than I would like to be. However, I try to never be gone during the first month of school while I entrain the kids. Being out a day here or there for the rest of the year is usually not too much of a problem. Two days? Not the best option (as I am doing this week), but with some preparation, it can be okay. And as for three? Don't even think about it. If you miss three days in a row, you'll never have the classes back as you would like them.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow will be very worthwhile in terms of conference sessions. For now, I'm going to lie down on the cushy bed here in the hotel and try to relax.

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Back to the Salt Mines

11 January 2005

It's been business as usual this January at school. My classes are moving along swimmingly, but I am overwhelmed with things to do in my Science Goddess role. I feel like a deer in the headlights.

I had a big presentation to a school committee last night and there is another big night for parents next week. I am trying to help a variety of schools boost their scores through literacy initiatives. I have one teacher at another school who has had it explained to her several times what the procedure is for materials adoption---and still doesn't get it---so I have spent countless hours trying to get it through her head. And the list goes on and on.

In the grand scheme of things, I'm supposed to be orchestrating a complete reorganization of Scope and Sequence for secondary science in our district: what will we teach and when? The thing is, I've never participated in anything like this, much less led it. And, I haven't talked to anyone in our district who has done so. It's very important that this whole project be done in the best possible manner, but I'm working blindly. Makes me very nervous.

Did I mention I'm trying to teach my classes, too? The end of the semester is in just over two weeks. I suppose I am a bit stressed, but that seems to be typical of most working Americans. There's no point in having a pity party. You just haveto move forward.

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