Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Target Learning: I don't know???

What did you learning today?

What do you mean… you learned nothing today?
I don’t remember.

What was your favorite part of the school day?
lunch and recess… oh, we watched a movie!

These are the answers we get from our children as we talk about their school day.  I remember having these same conversations with my grandfather as a school-age child.  He would always say: “Why do you go to school if you are learning nothing, maybe you should come to work with me!”  I would imagine that similar conversations about the school day are happening in many households.  My wife and I know that our children are learning at school.   We can tell that they are learning more than nothing and they do remember what they are learning.  They can easily recall their day and give specific learning that took place when we ask more detailed questions.  We can also tell by observing reading and writing skills and the progression of math activities that they are practicing through homework assignments.  It is exciting to watch them learn and grow!  

At our school, we make a concerted effort to post learning targets, making them the focal point of each lesson. The common language, “Target Learning” goals, within each grade level and for all subject areas is sustaining the development of skills. Setting instructional outcomes or target learning expectations is an extremely important step within the learning process. Student who understand the target learning, rather than merely meeting an assignment requirement, will more likely retain the information and have the ability to transfer that knowledge to future learning. Clearly stated learning targets that represents rigorous and important outcomes within each discipline is important to cementing skills.  Check out some examples:

Posting learning targets provides a clear and narrow focus to the learning expectations. Intentional activities and formative assessments during the learning process, while utilizing quality questions/prompts, discussion techniques, and engagement strategies that culminates back to the learning target, is key to solidifying student outcomes.

Many of our teacher are taking learning targets to the next level by involving parents.  Some teachers will pose questions for parents to ask their children within student planners or through weekly newsletters.  Ask your child what their target learning was today:

  • What tricky spelling pattern is found in our long “I” words?  (studying “ight”)
  • What is the “heart” of your story?  
  • How many different ways can you write the number 20.
  • Describe the main character from today’s story.  Where does the story take place?  What do you think is going to happen in the next chapter?  
  • What was your hypothesis today during your science experiment?
  • Can you teach me three different ways to multiply?  
  • How do you utilize dialogue in writing?

Asking targeted questions related to instructional outcomes will focus on learning more than the activity, which will support retention of material, increasing the likelihood that students will transfer that knowledge to future learning.  

Some teachers are communicating target learning to parents through twitter posts:  

Parents who follow classrooms on twitter can view learning takeaways to gain knowledge of the school day, which will support intentional conversations about learning with their children.  No more will parents ask: What did you learn today?  They will now ask:  Can you add larger numbers by regrouping?  How did you use google docs to collaborate on a literary essay? Target questions will get to the core of Target Learning for the day.

I love when parents and teachers work together to combat an old-age question:  What did you learn today?

Enjoy teaching and learning in 2015!  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflection 2015

The conclusion of another calendar year is always a great time to celebrate successes while reflecting on how to improve our craft as we make resolutions for 2015.  We continually reflect on the effectiveness of our building school improvement plans, culture and climate, instructional strategies, district initiatives, curriculum and assessment, etc. Our Professional Learning Committees do an amazing job collaborating while setting and monitoring goals that supports learning.  I also believe the success of a building depends greatly on self-reflection, asking questions that hit the core of our professional growth.    

Any job needs honest self-reflection.  Asking profound self-reflection questions, while understanding yourself and how stakeholders might view you, will truly improve your performance and maybe even the quality of your work experience. Examples of profound self-reflection questions:

  • Do my students like me?  Do I like my students?  Do I connect with them by creating positive relationships?
  • Do I create a collaborative culture of safety and empowerment within the learning process, where students can be risk-takers?
  • Do I automatically go to a negative place when hearing about new initiatives or do I consider the positives aspects that might support my craft?  
  • Do I let disappointment in educational politics and uncertainties creep into the classroom?
  • Do I find the professional growth process (evaluation) as a nuisance or a chance to grow and develop my craft?
  • Am I defensive when receiving constructive criticism?  Do I make excuses, or use constructive criticism as a chance to grow professionally?
  • Do I take instructional conferencing with my principal seriously?
  • Do my parents like me?  Do they know how much I care for their children and enjoy teaching? What would they say about my ability to communicate with them?
  • Do I surround myself with positive people?  Do I like my job?  Can I do better?
  • Do my colleagues like me?  Do they feel supported by me, or do I create anxiety for them?  How do I respond to others that are negative?
  • Do I create my own stress?  Are my greatest strengths creating weakness?  Am I blinded by my own ambition?
  • If everyone at my place of work had my attitude, what kind of work environment would it be? Do I have a growth or fixed mindset? Do I create opportunities to grow professionally (through professional development, twitter chats, professional reading, etc.), or do I think it is someone else’s job to seek out opportunities for me?
  • Am I the voice of “all good things” in education or the echo of what is bad?

I feel extremely fortunate to work in a positive building, with an amazing staff; however, even the most positive educators should ask these questions from time to time.  These are questions that I utilize when reflecting, which sustains my focus of being the best that I can be for our school community and ultimately our students.  If one truly want to sustain professional growth, I believe that you need to think deeper than traditional performance reflection questions.  One must self-reflect, getting to to core of professional growth, knowing that you are the only one who can truly answer these questions.

As you reflect and set goals for 2015, start thinking about deeper self-reflection questions that will support your motivation and positively carry you into a new calendar year.  Pick one or two that might resonate with you and try to improve by giving the “extra degree.” Always remember the importance of being the “positive voice” in education!  Continue to grow and embrace change, creating opportunities for professional growth, while enjoying the best job in the world… teaching children!

Thanks for reading and make this holiday season a time for family, friends and reflection.

Enjoy the conclusion to another great year!  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Inspiration - 212° the extra degree

“What inspires you?  What gets you to give your best day in and day out?” Great reflection questions via @Jennifer Hogan and #compelledtribe

I am inspired each day by our students and the many talented faculty at our school!  I am also inspired by @maureenbur1 and @MR_ABUD who recently introduced our administration team to 212° the extra degree by Sam Parker.  

“Applying one extra degree of temperature to water means the difference between something that is simply very hot and something that generates enough force to power a machine – a beautifully uncomplicated metaphor that ideally should feed our every endeavor – consistently pushing us to give the extra effort in every task, action and effort we undertake.”  212° the extra degree by Sam Parker
This inspiring book and idea has been used in trainings and workshops worldwide.
The purpose of Sam Parker’s book is to help individuals define and take ownership of their daily practice by adding the “extra degree” to their effort.  Sometimes it can be difficult to reach that extra degree when so many outside forces seem to encompass our profession.  There is political uncertainty surrounding current legislation, education reform, funding, standardized testing, evaluation process... the list could go on.  We all have a lot of stress and uncertainties that creep into our daily practice.  To combat the unknown or negative aspects within our profession it is important to sustain inspiration, giving us the energy and focus to obtain the “extra degree.”  
Reading books such as 212° the extra degree and being a connected educator is how many find inspiration.  I recently received a video on the Landfill Harmonic: An Orchestra Built From Trash.  It is a true inspiration and showcases how a community can empower children to be amazing.   I would even suggest that it is a place where everyone is giving the “extra degree” and the community is serving as an influence to those throughout the world.  Check it out!
In the spirit of the holidays, Landfill Harmonic and Parker’s book:  commit to operating at “212 degrees” in everything we do. Maintain the focus of high quality teaching and learning built on positive relationships - supporting all students, families, and each other.  As we make the push towards Winter Break, try to eliminate any uncertainties that might creep into our minds and only focus on why we became educators… to empower children to be amazing!
Parker suggests that once you start giving the extra effort or the extra degree that “it’ll be difficult for you to act in any other way. 212 will become a wonderful new habit in your world – a backdrop to all that you do – a habit that will create fantastic life results for you and help you serve as an influence to all those people around you.”

I look forward to finishing another calendar year with an amazing group of teachers, support staff, parents, and most importantly... students who inspire us each and every day!  

Enjoy the holidays and continue the positive energy into 2015!

Keith Howell
Be positive and passionate about the greatest job in the world… teaching children!