Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What to do when your team loses its purpose….(no really, I’m asking...what do you do)?

Carrie Sand contributed this post. Click here for more of Carrie's thinking and writing.

Last year, our district leaders determined that this school year would begin a district-wide writing initiative. The leaders in our buildings created a survey which demonstrated our staff was willing and interested to take on this venture. From there, a district committee was formed to work together throughout the summer to create a multi-year plan. This committee actively searched and found training and resources which we hoped would provide a solid foundation of understanding for all committee members. Throughout the summer, we dove into our work. We read specific chapters from Regie Routman’s Read, Write, Lead and met twice to discuss the ideas they sparked. As a team, we also attended UW-Madison’s Literacy by the Lakes conference and loved it!  From these experiences,  we were able to develop a three year timeline to roll-out to staff. Our year one goals included articulating shared beliefs about writing, exploring what best practices in writing mean for our school district, defining different types of writing by creating shared vocabulary, and conducting environmental writing walk-throughs. We felt good about having a plan, invigorated by our learning, and excited to head into the new school year with a laser like focus on writing.

Cut to five months later and our progress has come to a screeching halt. We have had one meeting since the school year began and that was to plan the one inservice we had available to us as the year’s “writing training.” (Yes, a whole year’s of writing training in a 2 hour afternoon meeting.) We have not read any new chapters, engaged in any further writing discussions, or collected any new writing data. We are all overbooked and frantic and already running on empty with no extra room in our brains or schedules for our wonderfully planned writing focus.

So that’s my reality as I reflect on the first half of the school year and stare the second half right in the face.  As a district literacy leader, I’ve spent the last couple of days  wondering “Now what?!” Do we drop the team totally and wait for a year or two when the conversation will inevitably come up again and someone will wisely suggest “Hey, we should have a district committee for this!” Do we carve out some precious time and rededicate a second semester to writing even though it might the initiative that breaks the teachers’ backs? Do we gloss it over, say we “pretty much” met our year one goals (you know, because we DID do a 2 hour afternoon inservice on writing), and think about how much better we will do next year?

After drafting the first part of this blog, I spent a few more days reflecting and reading. I picked up Elena Aguilar’s book The Art of Coaching Teams: Building Resilient Communities That Transform Schools, which I’ve had for about a year, but haven’t read it as closely as her book The Art of Coaching. Using the quick chart she has in the front of the book, I skipped ahead to Chapter 4 which talked about “defining purpose, process, and product.” As I read the chapter, I felt good about many of the steps we had taken in the summer. We had a common vision; we kept student learning in the forefront of decisions; our team functioned well and did not have conflict. And, as I read the section on writing goals, I realized that while we had the year long goals, maybe we just needed to redefine those goals in smaller chunks. In the last few days, I had been thinking about this writing initiative in absolutes. How could we reach all of these goals? How could I ask all staff members to do all of these things? The ideas in those ten pages wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it helped me take a few steps back and recommit to this writing purpose. Is it worthwhile work? Yes! Will it take time? Yes, but how can that time be spread out manageably in the course of the next sixteen weeks?

The reading and reflecting help me redefine my questions about this writing team. Instead of thinking: “What am I going to do? How will this ever work?” I’m wondering now: “What are the small steps we can take in January and February that might help us reach those large goals at the end of the year?” and “Who can take on different roles and responsibilities with this initiative?” Maybe not everyone, even those of us on the committee, need to be involved in every step or component of the year one goals. I’m hoping that recommitting to my writing team goals by using small steps will help me redefine the overall purpose and outcomes of this team. Now, it’s just taking the next small step!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Text Bands and Learning Progressions

Jaimie Howe contributed today's post. Click here for more of Jaimie's writing and thinking.

In my last post, I reflected on the initial professional development associated with my district’s implementation of the Lucy Calkins Reading Units of Study (RUOS). I identified the areas of Text Bands and Learning Progressions as areas that I wanted to increase my knowledge in. After reading more about them in Lucy’s, Reading Pathways, I realized just how integral these two components are to the Reading Workshop, so I prepared a professional development session for our Back to School In-Service Day, solely focused on these two topics. I would like to share what I did for this professional development and also the effects I have witnessed these two components have on classrooms/students this year.

In planning for this professional development session, I wanted teachers to have as much time as possible digging into these concepts rather than listen to me tell them why they are important. First, I gave a very brief overview of each topic, indicated where the information could be found, and recommended an activity for digging deeper. Below you will find a brief outline of how this information was presented:

Fast forward to now, four months into full implementation of both the RUOS and WUOS, I find myself so grateful for the time I spent digging into these two topics because I am witnessing their power first hand - and it is AMAZING!  One of the comments I made in my last post was:

“The most exciting part of this whole journey will be witnessing the extraordinary growth
in our students’ literacy development and their flourishing love of reading due to
great teaching and tons and tons of opportunities to read and write”

Boy was I right! I have had the opportunity to do a lot of team teaching with the units this fall in several grade levels.  The engagement level I am observing and the amount of books students are reading is astonishing! I believe that knowledge of the text bands has decreased teachers’ focus on what specific level students are and put it more on what the students can do with any particular text. Introducing learning progressions to students has also improved goal setting and student accountability  If you unfamiliar with text bands and Lucy’s reading learning progressions, I highly recommend you take the time to learn more about them.  They truly are powerful tools..

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A New Year---Same Focus

Andrea Reichenberger contributed this post. Click here for more of Andrea's writing and thinking.

Although a new year is different than a new school year, an extra breath of educational vitality usually stems from an extra long break. This school year has been one of “focus” for our district and I have adopted this goal for myself as well. In the spirit of resolutions, below is a list of what I am going to continue to focus on this year.  I hope you can glean something from my learning.

Ask the question, Is it within my sphere of Control? In a time in which we could look at more educational uncertainty, I have made it a point to no longer focus on the “what ifs?”  It will drive you crazy and will pull you away from what you should be focusing on.  Stay informed and do what you can within your sphere of control.  Remind yourself why you went into this profession to begin with.

Maintain the “One at a time” mantra. I’ve never been one for avoiding my favorite past time, but lately I find myself in a reading rut. This is because I have such a large pile of professional books in front of me to be read that I get overwhelmed and, as a result, put it off altogether. It might be healthier for me to cut back a bit on my Amazon purchases as well. Those who know me best know that this is me:

Get back to basics. Sometimes it is hard to convey the bigger picture,  but it is the most important thing we need to do as coaches and coordinators every day.  As we go through various stages of implementation and reviewing our current processes, it’s important to remember to communicate how everything fits together.  You cannot have a viable curriculum without a solid understanding of the standards and you cannot have a solid understanding of the standards without collaboration and formative assessment.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

January Face-to-Face Meeting

Click here to access the Google folder of materials for the Thursday, January 12, 2017 face-to-face meeting.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Are You Reading: January 2017

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell BartolettiMy book club read this and Fatal Fever in the same month. We compared and contrasted the way each author presented Mary Mallon, who alleged started a typhoid outbreak. (Barb)

Ghost by Jason Reynolds:  "Ghost" (a.k.a. Castle Crenshaw) lives with his single mother while his father is in prison doing time for firing a gun at Ghost and his mom. That gunshot started Ghost on running and he's been doing it ever since! One day, he decides to crash a track practice and prove his skill by entering in the race. The coach, impressed by what he sees, offers him a position on the team. Ghost, constantly in and out of trouble, has to see if he has what it takes to stay the course and learn the value of teamwork and practice. Audiobook highly recommended! (Maggie and Barb) 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo: Kate DiCamillo has done it again! This sweet tale of friendship and youth tells of three young girls who are brought together when they all decide to compete in the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. Raymie enters the contest in the hopes of getting her picture in the paper so her father (who ran off with a dental hygienist) will see it and come home. She meets Louisiana and Beverly, two very unique characters facing challenges of their own, and these three girls enter into an unlikely friendship. (Maggie) 

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs: I just finished this. It is the third book in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children trilogy. I read the first book so that I could discuss with my daughter, Olivia, as she was reading. I was hooked and had to finish the next two books. (Sarah)

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: Realistic fiction perfect for fans of John Green or Rainbow Rowell, this novel tells the story of Finch and Violet who meet on the edge of a bell-tower and both learn what it means to save another person. (Barb)

Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub: This novel picks up where Romeo & Juliet left off, with the houses of Capulet and Montague still at war. In an effort to resolve the violence and bring peace to Verona, Prince Escalus decides a marriage must be arranged to unite these houses and his city. Rosaline, niece to Capulet, and Benvolio, nephew to Montague, are paired together against their will. Together they work to avoid this forced union and bring an end to the treachery and violence corrupting Verona. If you liked Romeo & Juliet, you'll LOVE this read. My advice: listen to the audiobook! (Maggie) 

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose: This well-written nonfiction novel shares the story of Knud Pederson and the Churchill Club and their acts of sabotage in Denmark during World War II. Angered by the cowardice of their nation's leaders and the ease of how Germany occupied Denmark, this group of teenage boys took it upon themselves to take a stand against Hitler. Hoose worked closely with Knud Pederson to share his story, and he does an excellent job of depicting this historical event. (Maggie) 

Pax by Sara Pennypacker: I just finished this young adult book over break.  It is about a boy whose father goes away to war, and so the boy needs to release his pet fox into the wild.  The chapters switch between the fox and the  boy.  I think my students who love animals will really get into this book.(Heather) 

Having Hard Conversations by Jennifer Abrams: I just started this book and finished chapter 2.  So far it has talked about why we might try to avoid hard conversations. I am looking forward to the ideas while I am having a hard conversation. (Heather)

Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle: I am reading this book with some of our district literacy department colleagues.  So far this book has had great ideas for quick writes that I have used with my students in intervention and also great reminders for workshop. (Heather) 

The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar: I am actually rereading this books as part of the book study with the new literacy coaches in Menomonee Falls. (Sarah) 

I Am Reading by Kathy Collins and Matt Glover: I am reading this because our Kindergarten is in the process of looking at how to balance teaching the "skills" related to literacy aquisition and fostering a love and passion for books, writing, and learning. (Sarah) 

The Common Core Reading Book: Lessons for Increasingly Complex Literature, Informational Texts, and Content-Area Reading by Gretchen Owocki:  This resource has proven to be invaluable as my district works to identify priority standards and the progression of reading skills across the grades and content areas. The book is available in a K-5 edition and a 6-8 edition. Be sure to check out The Common Core Writing Book too! (Maggie) 

Various Lucy Calkins Writing Units of Study Units (Andrea) 

Evicted by Matt Desmond: Beautifully written non-fiction, this work captures the voices of tenants and landlords impacted by urban eviction. (Barb)

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney: I'm generally resistant to best-sellers and books recommended for book clubs, but this one was recommended a few times. "The Nest" is what four New York siblings call the inheritance they are set to receive when the youngest turns 40. Everything changes when the family matriarch uses The Nest to pay the legal fees of one of the siblings. (Barb)

Auschwitz #34207: The Joe Rubinstein Story by Nancy Sporwell Geise: This is next on the stack of personal reading on a recommendation from my dad, who has first discovered a passion and love for reading at age 61! (Sarah) 

Use the comments to tell us about what you're reading.