Adventures in Web-meetings

10082015TryAgainHere in the Northeast, we’ve endured some whacky weather – high winds and plenty of rain. Not exactly a hurricane, but a giant inconvenience, particularly for those without power since Sunday night. The wind damage and power outages resulted in school cancellations throughout the Merrimack Valley; some school districts are now left with just 2 of the allocated 5-day calendar allowance for snow days before snow season actually starts. Buckle those seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride this winter.

So what does the weather have to do with web meetings?  One of the off-shoots of a no-school day is that all activities after school are cancelled. For me, and the trusty group of participants in the graduate literacy course I am leading, that meant our All-Hallows-Eve session of EDUC 7226 was postponed and would need to be made up.

So, in a semi-panic (okay, that was a full-blown panic), I offered the possibility of doing a conference call based lecture to the participants in lieu of a face-to-face class. Making up the class would be a scheduling problem in that the class sessions needed for the full course already occupy every Tuesday between mid-September and December 19. I was pretty certain no one would be enthusiastic about pushing out the end date to the first Tuesday after the holiday break, January 2.  We needed to hold the Halloween class now somehow.

Anticipating that with 2 days out of school, some people might actually want to try to hold this session even if it was held off-site, I started to wonder about having a conference call where participants could access the slides that I use to accompany our class session. It turned out that quite a few participants were willing to give this a go, even those who were without WIFI and electricity.  The problem solvers in the group found ways to overcome those challenges, some even heading over to local coffee shops where WIFI and electricity could still be had.

So, my task yesterday morning was to quickly get up-to-speed with webinars and conference calls.  Never having hosted such a thing, I Googled “webinars” and discovered  hosting an online web-meeting was indeed possible… at a cost of $89/month to $429/month. I was pretty sure the bookkeeper in this family would veto that. Next search was “free+webinar+software” and BINGO! The product I serendipitously discovered was Free Conference Calls.

When something is free, there shouldn’t be any expectation for easy use or full functionality.  Free usually means there will be some pain for the user, because… free, what do you expect?

This product, however, is the real deal.  Since I had to come up to speed with the product in about 3 hours, I keep my wishlist simple:  a) ability for access to audio only (for those listening in on cellphones) or for audio+shared screen b) easy (for me) to negotiate invites and manage participation, and c) free.  Free Conference Calls was all of that – and I was able to record myself for participants who may need this class session on instant replay. Other functions that I didn’t use (yet) included Q&A boards, break-out sessions, and using pointers and highlighters on my shared screen.

At the appointed hour for our class to start, nearly all of the 22 participants in this course were logged in either as either full meeting participants or audio only.  The audio recording resides on my Conference Call account as a weblink which will allow anyone who was unable to attend our live meeting to listen in later.  And, considering that I’m not the most technology-saavy person on this planet, the fact that all of this went off without a disaster, is totally gratifying.

Sometimes the stars do line up in our favor.  We are Technology Warriors – every single one of us!

“Doing” Justice: More than just forms

Donalyn Miller recently tweeted about a recording sheet she uses for the 40 Book Challenge she not only “invented” but practices with her students in her classroom.  As I’ve recently added her book “The Book Whisperer” to the book study portion of a course I’ve developed, Donalyn’s tweet caught my attention:

Screenshot 2017-08-17 20.30.30

My curiosity over why Donalyn Miller would feel compelled to tweet an endorsement of  Debbie Ohi’s collection of forms led me to read this post from August 2014:  The 40 book Challenge Revisited.

Her point this:

… the original thinking behind an instructional idea becomes lost when it’s passed along like a game of Telephone. You heard about it from a 60-minute conference session. Your teammate attended a book study and she gave you the highlight reel. The teacher down the hall is doing something innovative. You should try it. We’ve all seen the quick adoption of shiny, new ideas without a full picture of how these concepts fit into best practices (or don’t).

I’ve frequently heard fellow educators reference that they are “doing” the Daily Five or the Daily CAFE. However, digging in a little deeper, misinformed yet well-intentioned educator’s idea of the “doing” is more likely to be incorporating some of the “centers” (sorry Gail and Joan, I know that’s not what you intended) or using some printable for students downloaded from one of the educator enterprise sites.

The Daily Five practice is based on developing a trusting relationship between learners and teacher. The development of this trusting relationship is every bit as important as the student activities.  A gradual release of responsibility leads to developing students independence and accountability.  Joan and Gail’s commitment to research and development of their own practice is the powerful glue that, in my opinion, holds the Daily Five and CAFE together. This becomes the basis for educator changes that lead to best practice.

Shiny new ideas are terrific, of course. That is the basis of being “green and growing”, as one of my former administrators used to say.  However, without fully understanding a method for management of teacher, the practice become so simplified that it often becomes just another tedious fill-in-the-blank task to keep students occupied.

 

And that, is not a best practice of any kind.

 

The Other Growth Our Students Need

2013fielddaybAbout 10 years ago, I was introduced to the Responsive Classroom, a program that was highly supported in the school in which I worked. There are many principles of Responsive Classroom that not only make for good classroom management, but create an environment of communal trust within a classroom and a school as a whole.

The first principle of a Responsive Classroom has always been important for me, a foundation of my career as a teacher: The social and emotional curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum. 

Recently, Edutopia and other education news sources carried the tale of how student “grit” is a key to student success.  What is grit? Self-perception, the ability to overcome inner obstacles, persistence, resiliency, self-regulation of emotions – in short, as Carol Dweck has written, it is a Growth Mindset.

These ideas are essential to a child’s education. They are the social and emotional curriculum that form the foundation for academic growth. And they are often missing in classrooms jammed with test preparation and curricular standards.

Sandra Dunning, the Principal who introduced me to Responsive Classroom, believed in the importance of developing a community of learners. Each morning, a 30-minute block of time was carved into our schedules for the community-building of Morning Meetings, Greetings, collaborative activities that fostered this development in each student, teacher, and classroom. There was a calm, purposefulness to our classroom in those days, and when things went off the rails, as sometimes happens, our group was able to process together and resolve whatever issues had preceded it.

Sadly, under the guise of “raising the bar” and increasing “rigor”, by the last few years of my teaching career, the daily activities that had created and fed my students’ social and emotional growth were undermined and replaced by time-on-task schedules, test preparation and packed curricula. Most mornings, we could squeeze in a Morning Greeting between breakfast and leaving for Allied Arts classes; some days we could not.

Responsive Classroom Principle 4 reminds us that To be successful academically and socially, children need to learn a set of social and emotional skills: cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. We are short-changing our students’ education when we can’t attend to emotional and social growth.

 

 

How do you plan for that?

A former colleague and new-to-grade teacher recently asked if I’d share my plan book with her. I was, of course, flattered by that request and, since planbook.edu hadn’t yet disabled my account (retirement = less out-of-pocket spending), I was happy to send her a PDF of my old book. With footnotes. Why?

Planbook in September

Planbook in September

Well, I realized as I looked at the attachment I was sending that throughout the year, my plan book changes in content and context. Quite drastically actually.

Like most everyone, at the beginning of the school year, I focus on routines. The required “I can” statements and goals and objectives reflect that. Then as I begin to know the students more, those statements become more language-based and focused.  Adjustments like this are natural to see. As a teacher learns more about what the students need, the focus shifts to the academics and meeting curricular goals.

As I flipped through the year I also noted when something that caught my attention during professional development was incorporated into planning. The structure of the day – the schedule of what happens when – morphs to fit what is more comfortable for my students and for me.

Yes there are immovables; Special Education schedules can rarely be changed once they are set at the beginning of a school year. Still tweaking and changing to accommodate what flow is best for students is an ongoing process.

Planbook in June

Planbook in June

My comment as I sent the attached plans off? Looks like by the end of the school year I finally got it right. Or at least close to something we all could live with.

How do you plan for that? I’m thinking, you don’t. You go with the flow.

Bulletin Boards

When I first started teaching, I changed bulletin boards monthly – always with, what I perceived was a “cute” theme.  Laminated cutouts, tracings from an overhead projector…. I diligently changed the boards in my classroom to reflect seasons and my own idea of what would make the classroom seem cute or homey.

Oh boy, have things changed! Next Tuesday, when my students enter our shared space for the first time since last June, those cute, decorative, perfect bulletin boards will be missing in action.

Why? Several reasons. Over time, I’ve recognized that the perfect, teacher-created bulletin boards can create a dizzying space. While I don’t want the walls to be institutionally devoid of anything, there is a balance needed. Kids don’t need to have more stuff to distract them. So, mainly anything I put on the walls is necessary as a reminder (example: Daily Five I-Charts) and mostly co-created with my kids.

Now I use one color for a background throughout the classroom. Following Gail Boushey and Joan Moser’s lead (the “2 Sisters“), I use a very light pink which is easy on the eyes and not a distraction from what will end up on those boards. IMG_0008_2

Putting up backgrounds is tedious, measuring, pulling the material taut and stapling it to the ugly grey material of the board takes lots of time. When I used to use construction paper, it would fade very quickly. So for the last several years, I’ve “invested” in plastic table cloths from our local party store. This material doesn’t fade, stays up, and staple/pin holes are pretty minimal. And they are inexpensive. Sweet!

Similarly, I use a border that stays in the background, but ties all of the display areas together cohesively.  The black border that I have chosen is a simple, corrugated, plain border which just happens to be reasonably inexpensive.

As you can see, outside of the bare bones of what will become our CAFE board and an alphabet strip, the boards are bare and ready for the students and me to begin creating essential reminders of what we are learning or student work.

We are (almost) ready for the first day.

Begin at the beginning

How do you define your classroom space?

IMG_1255I like to call mine collaborative classroom design.  As a follower of Responsive Classroom, I know how important it is for students to feel ownership and have a voice in designing the space we share. When I walk into my classroom space for the first time after a summer break, I ask myself:

  • Is the classroom a reflection of me? Or will the students own the walls with their work on display and the tools or charts they need to use?
  • Is there visually too much? Has there been consideration given to create a visually calming space?
  • Are the supplies students use placed so they will be able to access them independently?
  • Is there a purposeful sense to the flow of traffic in the room?

Just four things to consider and yet, these four are so important! I want the IMG_1249students to feel that they have a shared responsibility for the room – for the upkeep, tidiness, and for the feel of the space. I want my students to know they can access needed supplies without asking me where something is all of the time! When it isn’t working I find my kids may not tell me with words, but with their actions that something is working or not working. Believe me, when it isn’t working, it is crystal clear!

This week, I will begin to reset my classroom after its summer cleaning and spruce-up. As I set up for a new year of learning, I will keep my four considerations in mind and prepare to collaborate with my 24(ish) new best friends.

IMG_1253

Scheduling (I’m dancing as fast as I can)

How do you start planning for a new school year? I begin with thinking about my daily schedule.

At the beginning of my career, this was more problematic because teachers weren’t given all the contributing factors (like lunch, recess, and special schedules) until the day before the kids came. That made for a long night before school started. This year, our principal has made the decision that lunch times will stay the same as will specials. Knowing when students will out of the classroom for allied arts and lunch is a giant help in planning for instruction.

The wild card this year is that there are many mandated time allotments and not enough time in the day to meet all of them. Teachers in this district are asked to provide time on task for almost as many minutes as there are in the entire school day. That leaves no time to get to point A from point B, no time to transition kids from one activity to another, no time for recess or bathrooms. Sorry, no can do.

scheduleSo, today I began to triage what I hope will be our class schedule.

When I try out a times on paper, I like to think about what worked with my students. I sketch and re-sketch on paper, let it simmer for a while, come back, and give it another shot. Hopefully, I have something that will make sense and be able to record these ideas on a spreadsheet before setting up any kind of plan book.

My nature is that I like to mix things up halfway through the school year, but because I am teaching with a Special Education partner with an even more complicated schedule, that’s not always possible. So whatever schedule I create needs to meet the mandates from our Central Office and School Committee, be natural for students, and be possibly in place for the whole 180 days.

Yes, I am dancing as fast as I can, and school hasn’t even started.