Community Service

This year, one of our efforts as a school community was to engage our students in community service.  I personally think this is a great idea, especially for mid-elementary students who can be somewhat egocentric.  It’s a big wide world out DSC_0351there!

DSC_0360Fortunately for us, our service opportunity was within walking distance of our urban school.  Nearby Lincoln Square Park holds a monument to our 16th President and school namesake.  In 1908, Lowell schoolchildren raised money toward the monument’s placement, so it seemed an appropriate connection to history to do something at this spot. This link leads to more information about the monument and its recent restoration.

With the help of some outstanding community partners – Washington DSC_0357Savings Bank, Four Seasons Landscaping, and the Steve Purtell of the City Park Department – and our school community, students swept, raked, and picked up this beautiful gem of outdoor space in Lowell.  This was the first time planting experience for many of our students. They learned to dig in plants, tap plants out of containers, and even to use rakes and shovels.

But most of all, our students learned that to make a public space pleasant and enjoyable, it takes effort and is the responsibility of everyone in the community.

What better lesson could there be?

You May Never Know How Much That Means

As I checked out of the supermarket this week, I heard someone calling my name. That’s pretty unusual as my grocery store is in the next town. It’s not what you might assume; the next town allows food shopping and wine buying in the same place.  I like to call it lowering my carbon footprint or practicing fuel conservation.

Since I’m horrible with placing people outside of the everyday, usual spots, this lovely woman didn’t leave me hanging. She (re)introduced herself and the minute she stated her name I knew where we had met. About 25 years ago, I taught her youngest son.

Memories of an engaging second grader flooded back in an instant. Hearing he was already 31 left me speechless. That was just not possible. He just had to be 8 or 9, maybe 12. 31? I couldn’t believe it. How thoughtful of his mom to recognize me and to let me know how he was!

One of the best fringe benefits of teaching? Catching up with students who have passed through my classroom. It doesn’t matter if it’s been one year, or 21 years. Each one holds a special place in my heart and mind.

Hearing from former students is an honor and privilege for every teacher. Don’t ever stop. You may never know how much it means.




What We Have Here Is A Failure to Communicate

This weekend, our grade level was asked to give some feedback on communication, or lack thereof, in our school.  As further proof that everything in life can be explained by movies, these lines spoken by Stother Martin in Cool Hand Luke popped into my head immediately:

 What we have here is a failure to communicate.

2014-11-25-lincoln-024Communication on every level is one thing that makes or breaks a school’s culture. I’ve worked with some really great communicators over the span of 30 years.  Here are some things that I’ve learned are important:

Is the message always top-down? Collaborative decision-making can be less expedient. Why are major decisions and messages always delivered by administrators? Is it for expediency of delivering a consistent message or is it because it’s easier to just make the decision at the top?

Group decision making takes extra time and effort because the group having the discussion must hear all the points of view and then negotiate the final message. I believe that a healthy debate of topics is a sign of a group/team that respects each other. We teach our students accountable talk, why is it so impossible for adults to practice the same talk moves? We need to stop the “pants-on-fire” method of decision making and allow vertically grouped staff to have discussions and make decisions that may not please everyone, but will allow all voices a time to be heard.

Is the reasoning known? One of my relatives gave my son and husband each shirts many years ago. Matt’s said “But why?” and Adrien’s “Because I said so.”

For administrators and leaders, it must be much more expedient to say “this is the way it’s going to go”, end of story. But “because I said so” is a sign of the micro-management that signals a death knell for collaborative cultures. It dis-empowers (is that even a word?) those who are doing the actual teaching. It squashes any chance of finding a creative solution to a “problem”, whether the problem is big or small. And it takes the voice away for the ones who are going to do the task. Sometimes those of us on the ground floor can see a problem that those with a wider view cannot.

Is it timely? Last minute changes happen, everyone understands that. But a constant stream of last minute important information is not only frustrating, it makes people (me) resentful. As good as they are subs and paraprofessionals cannot deliver instruction the way a teacher can; teaching today and teaching with the Common Core standards is more complicated than “open your book to page 109”.  Plans that are rewritten or simply rehashed on the fly are mostly a waste of time for students.

I want to know how long someone has been sitting on the information.  This week I got a notice for a special education meeting on Friday – the day of the meeting. I got an email about it on Thursday. There was no time to prepare data for the meeting. How professional does that appear?

What does success look like? In contrast, this week our Literacy Coach took time during Common Planning to step my grade level through all the (known) events upcoming for the last 6 weeks of school. While it makes my head spin, I appreciated how she communicated what was expected to be accomplished by year-end and now can approach planning more thoughtfully.  She also willingly adjusted some dates to accommodate year-end events our grade level wanted.  Collaborative? Check. Timely? Check. Reasoning explained? Check.  Now that’s successful communication.

Cramming or Happiness?

I can’t be alone in thinking that this stretch of the academic year could be better used.  We have been practicing for state tests, administering state tests, and administering district assessments since March. Here we are 2 months later getting ready for the next round of state assessment and end-of-year assessments.

If you are ready to say “uncle”, raise your hand.

Recently I heard suggestion made that we should “double up” on our mathematics instruction so the students would have more math exposure ahead of the MCAS.  Think about that for a moment.


Exploring erosion with a stream table.

I enjoy math and I actually enjoy TEACHING math. But I don’t think force-feeding math standards down kid’s throats in anticipation of state math assessments is good for anyone. Remember college and cramming for a final? Well, this is just as effective, except the people cramming are 10 years old.

What makes my students happy and excited these days is science.  So far I’ve been able to resist the suggestion to bag science instruction and cram for a math test.  I’ll continue to do this even in the face of state testing and suggestions that my class is “behind” the district schedule. Why? Because for some of my students, it is the highlight of their day.


Standardizing stream table variables.

Why does school need to be so full of drudgery and test preparation and sticking to artificial schedules that do not reflect developmental learning? Ten year olds need to be filled with the excitement of discovering something new, of making sense of something; they need to learn to love learning. And if that something is science (or math, or reading or writing), then that’s where we will be going.

Learning should be happiness.