Sunday, February 2, 2014

February 2, 2014

As the rain is coming out of the sky this morning it is a reminder that life is an eb and flow. Just yesterday, the media was reporting on our drought condition and the much needed rain. Today, we have that rain and we can't determine with 100% accuracy how much rain or how long it will last. However, the water that is provided will allow plants to regenerate, crops to grow, animals to drink, and help the environment heal. When we don't have the water that is needed, we make adjustments in our water usage and figure out creative ways of using the water resources we do have in the most efficient way possible.

You might be asking yourself why I am talking about the rain. Well, the weather, like our children can be unpredictable. We know that our land needs water  in order to produce fertile ground for crops. Similarly, we know that our students need a solid foundation in school and a stable environment at home to be as successful as possible. We cannot however, control nor even begin to know the ins and outs of students' home lives. We can assume what some or most are experiencing, but we can't be certain. We then must be flexible and always adapting to our students' needs in order to provide them a sold educational foundation despite the drought they may have in other areas of their lives. We cannot make excuses! We must provide structure, consistency, systems, and hold rigorous high academic expectations for every student. If we hold true and strong to this belief that every student can and will reach high academic standards, then we WILL make it happen.

Take a look at your boards in your classroom and your papers you pass out to your students. Look and make sure that the language you are using is academic language. You don't want to use abbreviations when writing on your board, because it is modeling a "shortcut" for students and we want them to be able to use and understand academic language. When providing complex text, challenge your students to read the text multiple times. Don't underestimate their ability to persevere and use their critical thinking skills to pull the text apart and find meaning. We want to provide scaffolds when they are needed, but pull the scaffolds away when the students are moving closer to mastery. It is a delicate balance between providing too much help and not enough. Allowing the students to try and struggle with difficult text first before breaking it down with them, will help them ultimately in their ability to read complex text on their own. Model often for students what they should be doing. When they see you reading a text and using your own mark up strategies, highlighting, underlining etc. they will see that they are not just tasks done in isolation, but tasks used by strong readers to comprehend and demystify text.

I had the opportunity last week to meet with about fifteen or so eighth graders. The topic of discussion was the classroom environment. In particular the students were addressing a classroom that has had a substitute and what had been happening. The students were not coming to get out of any trouble, they were coming to discuss their observations and problem solve with me on how things could be improved. When I asked them about the assignments they were being asked to do with the substitute, the students' biggest concern was that they were just being given worksheets and told, "Do this." They explained that the work was very basic and not challenging. Additionally, they said there was no explanation to them of what the expectations of the assignment were. They were asking for more challenging work, more engaging work, and some "real" interaction from the substitute. You see what I gained from these conversations with these students is that our kids don't want meaningless busy work. They don't want a teacher/substitute to merely be "in the room" monitoring their behavior. They want engaging, new, meaningful work and real interactions with the adult in the room. We have talked before about relationships with the students and how important that is. Building relationships doesn't mean you are their best friend in the classroom, it means you listen to them, you have reciprocal conversations, you respect them, and you admit that you are the facilitator of their learning, not the director of their every move. Just as you in your adult life need autonomy, mastery, and purpose, our students too need autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We can learn a lot from our students if we just stop and truly listen to what they have to say. At the root of it, we are here each day for them, not for ourselves.

Tomorrow is our big visit. As I have said to all of you since I heard the news, this is truly an amazing moment in time for Crystal Middle School. To be chosen as a site for the State Superintendent of Education to come visit is an honor. Look at your students in front of you tomorrow morning and let them serve as that beacon of light that you are making a difference. We are in year two of No Excuses University which is helping us send a clear message to all of our students that each and everyone of them can reach their academic goals. You have been implementing T4S and ELLA strategies seamlessly the last few years. Those strategies are helping to engage our students, helping them to have interactions with one another, and assisting you in assessing them on and ongoing basis in order to adjust your lessons. We should be very proud of our ability to work in student BYOD. It is a normal practice now for me to walk into a classroom and have the teacher ask students to get out their devices for an assignment. We have been innovative and we will continue to be innovative in our approach to educating our students. I will continue to support each of you and your "out of the box" thinking when it allows for student growth. Congratulations, Crystal Staff on a job well done. We have only just begun to show what possibilities are out there for our school and our students. I will continue to push each of you to grow and move even further as I expect you to do the same for our students. We are a FAMILY and we will always have the support of our FAMILY members even when things get tough. "Make it a great day with no excuses, and remember...after high school comes college."

IDENTIFY: Identify is to recognize and correctly name someone or something. 

Students working collaboratively on a document using Google Docs and working on their own devices in Merrick's English class!!!

Students using and citing historical evidence to justify their arguments in Collin's English class!!!


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