Martin's Musings

April 20, 2015

Ah-ha Moment

Something Dr. Anderson said Friday planted a seed that grew into an epiphany Saturday morning. When he was talking about IGNiTE, SPS Imagine, etc. he focused on how these tools and initiatives would allow us to individualize student learning. His comments helped me to realign my thinking. Technology, project based learning, Aleks, or iReady are not the goal. They are merely tools and processes that will allow us to individualize instruction for each student.

Think of the academic diversity in your classrooms. WINGS to IEPs. Authentic engagement to rebellion. Excited to bored. For years we have been hearing the importance of meeting each child where they are. Voice and choice. In a perfect world this would be the norm, but realistically this is not possible in the old model with one teacher and 23 students. However, the new district initiatives will help greatly with individualization of learning for all students.

Already in Kim and Jessica R's classroom, Chromebooks have allowed students much more voice and choice in their learning. Each day students have a list of "Must Do's" and "Can Do's". The Must Do's are required, but the students can select from the list of Can Do's. While this might have been possible without technology, the use of Chromebooks is making it easier and more relevant for each student.

We have already seen how iReady and Aleks are allowing students to engage in learning at their own pace. Dreambox and Lexia will provide that same level of computer-assisted individualization next year.

In guided reading, we are reaching a certain level of individualization with small group instruction, but there are still many growth opportunities for not only ELA but math, social studies, science, and specialty classes. While the newness of the current level of innovation can seem overwhelming at times, we will go slowly, support constantly, and celebrate often.

Parent Communication

As the end of the year approaches, there may be the need to have some of those tough conversations with parents about their child's scholastic progress (or lack thereof), behavior concerns, or the importance of summer school. It is natural to shy away from unpleasant conversations, but we do the student a disservice if we do not have those conversations. Below is a 7-step process that you may find helpful.

Crucial Conversations teaches a 7-step process for managing difficult conversations:

  • Start with heart. Ask yourself what you really want and what’s at stake.
  • Learn to look. Always be asking yourself whether the conversation is defensive or a dialogue. If you or the other party strays into defensiveness, simply say “I think we’ve moved away from dialogue” or “I’m sorry, I’ve been trying to force my ideas on you.”
  • Make it safe. Another way to deal with defensiveness in difficult conversations is to create a comfortable situation by apologizing, asking a question that shows interest in others’ views or even taking a time out.
  • Master your story. Focus on what happened that made you feel a certain way. Think through your emotions and then choose the appropriate way to respond.
  • State your path. Share your facts and conclusions so that the other party can see where you are coming from.
  • Explore others’ paths. Find out what the other person is thinking. Make sure that you understand each other and look for areas of agreement.
  • Move to action. Come to a consensus about what will happen. Document who will do what by when and settle on a way to follow up.

I would add:

Plan an appropriate time/place. Plan a time when you can meet and give the parents a heads-up as to the nature of the meeting. I have been guilty of mentioning behavior concerns in the car line or in passing in the hallway. This is not fair to the parent nor the student. Often times a sibling or other adult is present in the car or other ears are around in the hall. Those other people do not need to be privy to the information you are sharing. Try to avoid car-line/hallway conferences if at all possible. Put yourself in the parents' shoes. How would want a teacher to deliver bad news to you about your student? Plan accordingly.