Saturday, February 4, 2012

Great Expectations

January is a month of kicking off New Year’s resolutions and goals.  In education we are not immune, in fact for many teachers this is the 2nd time in the school year when goals are being set, following the back to school change-ups that occur in September.  Plus January for teachers becomes that time when we can re-evaluate what is working and what isn’t, get a little perspective (and rest) and maybe shake up the status quo.

Celina and I are no different.  We spent our winter break reading, blogging, thinking and planning for the months ahead.  We returned to school in January rested and rejuvenated, ready to jump into a variety of formative assessements to see the fruitions of our students' efforts and our high expectations.  We implemented a new take on our science curriculum that branched into a reading project as well.  We opened up our homework to student choice and interest, thereby inspiring our students to dive into creative stories and structures (one that will take center stage, I am told, at the talent show in June!).  Personally we selected the words of Inspiration and Courage to push our own thinking and learning.  We encouraged our students to select a word too and were overwhelmed by their insightful responses and connections.  Celina launched the “Perfect Storm” which to our laughing delight created a “Yeah duh, of course that is what we do” response in our kids.  Additionally we both took on leadership and mentoring roles within our building. 
Our students tackled MAP testing these last two weeks and impressed us with their drive and growth.  For us it is not about the number but something beyond.  Students have been working on individualized math and reading goals through a variety of venues and within an atmosphere that supports their learning styles and personal profile.  They understand the strands of focus within these content areas and strive to connect these concepts to the real-world.  During the test, students accessed their typical support resources to make them comfortable and decrease test anxiety:  fidgets (sticky-tak, squishy balls, hair bands, etc.), paper/pencil, cushy chairs, and sticky notes to cover the number/words.  We provided them with drinks/snacks/exercise/bathroom breaks as necessary, as well as peppermints to calm them as needed.  Standardized tests are an expectation for many of us; it is how we prepare students to be themselves and recognize their own personal needs that matters to us.  These moments allow us to empower students to self-advocate for their own personal success.  

Many students immediately wanted to compare their new ranges within the strands to their fall results to identify where they had made the most growth.  They made connections to focusing on certain areas (in some cases not practicing the skills they were high in to maintain that level) and established goals for the coming months.  They were delighted with their growth, one student laughing at his final score in complete amazement of his significant achievement.  Another student responded, "Well I know my score is the same but I want to know what area I made growth because I know I did. And what's my new goal?" And sure enough this little guy had grown significantly within 2 areas, the strands he had been working diligently in for months.  Even more amazing was the conversation that ensued regarding the strands he spent little time in because he "had it"- which was a great realization for him with why continuous review was necessary for the brain. Overall we were inspired by their seriousness, their commitment and their pride. We laughed, high-fived here and there and even danced to show our joy in their accomplishments.  Now we are recommitting ourselves to meeting their needs again, to setting new goals, to new avenues of instruction and support, so that we can celebrate again in May when spring MAP returns.

Other expectations we had for the month have yet to be realized, as we continue to read and reflect on the future of education especially through the adoption of Common Core Standards and 21st Century Skills. We have reached out within our PLC to collaborate more and share ideas we are finding successful.  Our expectation is not for others to 100% agree with what we do, we want others to “interrogate our reality” like they say in Fierce Conversations so that we can have rich discussions and an opportunity to refine our message.  We learn tremendously from the chance to think about, reflect on and apply changes to our practice.  Thankfully we have also connected via Twitter and our blog with other teachers around the globe.  We are learning of new ideas and modifications we can make to better meet the needs of our students – that is our ultimate goal and the high expectation we will always have for ourselves.
 So January has come to pass and we are again re-evaluating our expectations, once again thinking about where we should spend our time and energy so that we can feed others and be fed in return with Inspiration and Courage in 2012 . . . Stay tuned.  ~ Ann

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