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Collaboration Through BLT and PLC March 13, 2012

HOPE principle E2, Exemplify Collaboration Within the School, focuses on how educators work collaboratively on a professional level within their school community. I am currently serving my second year on our Building Leadership Team, or BLT. This group consists of representatives from each grade level, one from the specialist team, and our principal. We systematically collect input from and relay information to our grade level teams in a “Professional Learning Community” manner in order to evaluate school systems and make decisions based on improving student learning.

Our BLT, along with other leadership groups within the district, attended the DuFour conference on Professional Learning Communities (PLC)  in Seattle this past summer 2011. We were eager to apply what we learned to our learning community within our school as well as to the learning community within our section of the district. We gained much insight into the steps we must take to implement the big ideas of the “professional learning community”. The initial phase of this implementation focused on math enrichment support for students who, according to our school data, already knew the material being taught. This data also drove the development of our school Continuous Improvement Plan, or CIP, which addressed curriculum enrichment as well.

While the conference was excellent, our BLT was motivated, and my grade level team was committed, consistent adherence to PLC tenets is sometimes a struggle. We are more adept at it this year than last year and will probably be even better next year if we follow this trend. We consider our efforts time well spent as we know that it is what is best for students.


All About Me Posters Aid in Topic Selection in Writing March 4, 2012

HOPE principle P1 addresses the practice of intentional inquiry and planning for instruction. As I consider the standards for writing in the Lake Washington School District and plan for writing instruction in my class, I am careful to take into account the need for a variety of writing resources that meet the writing needs of each of my students. Some students need an ABC chart at their fingertips with explicit instructions on how to use it in order to apply phonemic awareness skills to their writing. Other students enjoy using “turn and talk” time with their writing partner to verbalize their writing plan before getting started.

One of my students’ favorite (and my favorite as a teacher) writing tools are the “All About Me” posters we keep posted around the room for most of first semester. The idea for this activity was passed on to me by a teacher with whom I team taught a couple years back.These posters are created by the students themselves at the beginning of the year and include photos and writing that inform others as to:  Who is the student? Who is in his/her family? What are the student’s likes and dislikes? Students then are scheduled to present their poster orally to the class after having practiced their presentation at home. The posters remain accessible in order to provide a resource for students as they choose a writing topic. Choosing a topic tends to be a challenging skill for many young writers and I often hear “I have nothing to write about!” Students are taught to revisit their All About Me posters and look for details in the photos and comments that might bring on a writing idea. They are also encouraged to visit other students’ posters to see if any connections can be made between the life of another student and his/her own life.

As I reflect on the effectiveness of this strategy to help students select a writing topic, I think of all the times I have perused through my family photo albums. This activity often spurs animated conversation with anyone who is close by and is willing to listen. It brings to mind many detailed experiences I have had that evoke one emotion or another. It makes sense that it would do the same for our students.


Buddy Class as Technology Mentors February 26, 2012

The HOPE principle P4Practice the integration of appropriate technology with instruction, is particularly applicable to my school as many, if not most, of the families work in a technologically oriented field. The use of computers plays a significant role in the daily lives of each family in my kindergarten class and my students are, for the most part, very comfortable using technology. This presents both advantages and setbacks to integrating computer use in the classroom. Many of the basic computer skills such as the use of a mouse, opening up of programs, and basic terminology are already familiar to students. However, some students are so confident in their computer abilities that they are quick to move forward without fully comprehending the task at hand.

To address this issue, I frequently engage students with computers while visiting with our 6th grade buddy class, especially if there is a defined end product. Since they are paired up with more technologically savvy partners, not to mention ones to whom they look up, our younger students are more apt to follow the modeling of their buddies and move at a more controlled pace as directed by the teacher. During a recent visit with our buddy class, students gained experience opening a website, navigating to the right link, viewing a video clip, and gathering information to answer questions about an animal.

While such guided computer experiences reduce incidents of students getting “lost in cyberspace”, I do recognize the benefits of students engaging in free exploration within a particular piece of software or website program. To familiarize students with the MS Word program, I plan to give them instruction on how to open up Word, start a new document, and change font style and size. Students will then explore these program tasks by writing word wall words in various styles and sizes.


Collaboration According to the PLC Model February 20, 2012

HOPE Principle E1 – Exemplify professionally-informed, growth-centered practice

     As a personal, as well as school wide, desire to increase student learning, we,  as a school, have embraced the process and principles of Professional Learning Communities (PLC). I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the DuFour PLC conference with other key members of our school staff this past August, 2011. The main tenets of this type of “reform” is focusing on learning rather than teaching, regular collaboration and goal setting with others in the learning community, collecting and analyzing data, and creating and implementing a plan to address the needs of students who struggle or already know the material. The collaboration and data analysis pieces of this model are what I and my teammates wanted to focus on this year.

We all have had students who either fail to learn the teaching targets or know them before they have even been taught. Frequently, we have battled this discrepancy on our own and applied interventions retrieved from our own creative, yet limited, collection of strategies. One premise (out of several) the PLC model is based on is the idea that the collective knowledge of a group of professionals is more likely to result in greater academic gains than the ideas of one teacher working alone. This requires PLC groups to meet regularly to formulate goals, share data, and provide and receive feedback.

My teammates and I, along with other school staff, have worked hard to arrange and follow through with weekly PLC meetings this year. We also have committed to sharing assessment results and providing feedback to each other. While this process is not perfect, we have accomplished much during our protected PLC meeting time so far this year. We are ready to set new goals for ourselves which will include streamlining our methods for data collection.


Invite and Honor Parent Involvement

In this blog I will be addressing Principle H4 – Honor family/community involvement in the learning process. I am so fortunate to teach in a community of families that maintains high expectations of educators and is also willing to put in any hours that are necessary to help us get the job done. Furthermore, we are blessed with a varied representation of cultures and ethnicities. In my class I have students from India, China, Turkey and Mexico and several had recently traveled to these countries to visit family.

Such collaboration with families along with the diverse make-up of my classroom served to enhance a multi cultural unit I presented which featured the customs and celebrations of a variety of countries. I sent out a request to my classroom families for volunteers to come in and present a custom, celebration, and/or tradition that was special to their family and specific to their country of origin (including the United States). I was pleased with the response I got and students benefited from lessons pertaining to Diwali, Holi, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Las Posadas and Hanukkah.

While there are many worthwhile philosophies that guide a teacher’s craft, a significant one for me is how we honor and recognize the families and communities our students come from. This is true for school communities that are in economically advantaged areas as well as in areas that are economically disadvantaged. It is not often that I meet a parent who has nothing to offer in regards to enriching the education of all students in my class. Sometimes it just takes an invitation and encouragement.