Oprah Winfrey often asks people, “What do you know for sure?” As my retirement date fast approaches, I find myself reflecting about my career, the people I have met, and the impact I hope to leave behind. After 40+ years of working in various settings with children, here are my thoughts on that question.
This post brought to you by Carol Lucido, the K-8 District Math Coordinator
This Thursday, our RPS teaching staff will again be getting to work with Dr. Sharroky Hollie as we continue to grow and learn in our own practices. As his visit approaches, I am reminded of some of the great resources many of our staff members are currently using district-wide as they cultivate their own understanding and application of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning.
Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed
Seven National Public Radio (NPR) journalists share their insights on race, ethnicity, and culture. This bouquet of resources can be accessed in various ways: their stories are often aired on local NPR stations but can also be accessed via their blog, podcast, Tumblr, Twitter stream, and/or Facebook feed.
Some recent Code Switch stories that RPS staff have been discussing, and in some cases also using in their classrooms, are:
The site Responsive Reads, which links to a wide array of culturally authentic texts that are being used in classrooms across that nation, is a one-stop-shop for those wanting to expand their classroom libraries or make strong book recommendations for their students.
This resource makes suggestions for both nonfiction articles and fiction books; as a bonus, many come with some VABBing suggestions made by Hollie and his team!
This Sincerely, X Episode
Sincerely, X is a podcast version of TED Talks, except that each story is shared anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the content or how sharing such content could possibly be damaging to the speaker.
“Episode 10: Gifted Kid,” the episode I hear discussed most often around the district, explores what it’s like to be a gifted kid in a neighborhood so rough that students' gifts become difficult to see, explained by a teacher who is trying to fix that.
This book, Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, was studied last winter by a handful of RPS teachers in an online book study. In this text, Vance shares his firsthand perspective on what a “social, regional, and class decline feels like when...born with it hanging around [one’s] neck” (back cover of Hillbilly Elegy).
Those who worked through this book together found it shed light on cultural aspects that often go unnoticed because those experiencing them, at least in this context, are white.
Consider exploring this text further by reading "The Lives of Poor White People" by Joshua Rothman, a detailed New York Times review about Vance's memoir.
If you too would like to dig deeper into what Hollie has been sharing with us, and will continue to share with staff on Thursday, perhaps you might wish to begin with one of the above four resources.
As you explore further, please considering reaching out to your instructional coach or one of us from the C&I team: we would love to discuss any of these resources with you.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
Chip In and Let's Get Started!
Setting the Tone
How class begins can set the tone for the rest of the class period. There are different strategies that can help get students into a focused mindset and allow for high productivity. Last year, I began the adventure of flexible seating. We’ve added short stools, tall stools, office chairs, bean bags, crates, floor pillows, benches, a work nook, and several other working areas. The goals of flexible seating were to:
Maximize Student Productivity & Inspire Creativity
Maximizing student productivity and inspiring creativity go hand-in-hand. As a teacher of writing, I know that it’s not a favorite or strong subject of many students. When I personally need to accomplish something (especially something that takes more sustained effort), I do not choose to sit in hard blue chairs. With this in mind, I set out to create options for students to select a seat that would allow them to be productive each day. When students feel comfortable, they often feel more inspired and creative. I’ve witnessed this first hand and been reaffirmed through student feedback.
Support and Encourage Personal Responsibility
As a middle school teacher (really the goal of any teacher), we want our students to become independent and personally responsible. Selecting a seat is a big responsibility. Students know that they have goals to accomplish, and their seat should help them achieve those learning goals. Choosing different seats each day is encouraged as opportunities to explore what works and what doesn’t work. Students can always discretely move during class if a spot isn’t working. If a student’s seat is not working, they know I always have the right to move them for the sake of their learning. They may hear me quietly ask, “Is your seat working, or would you like to try another one?” If students are moved, we try again the next day where they take personal responsibility to pick their own seat. In the end, we want students to have the life skill of making choices, reflecting on their choices, and adjusting to achieve success.
One challenge that came up with flexible seating and up to seven classes of students each day was how to take attendance. It was a laborious process to search the room for students or call off names to do attendance each day. What a waste of time! I set off to find a way to quickly take attendance which led to… Chip In!
As students enter the classroom, they put their assigned number chip into a bucket. I can quickly look at which chips are left on the counter, cross-check with the roster, and take attendance in a fraction of the time.
What began as a way to take attendance has morphed into so much more.
There are two response options, one in each bucket. This is a very quick procedure that can serve multiple purposes:
After students chip in and sit down, they have a bell ringer that is often connected to the chip in responses. This again gives focus and a really quick, meaningful formative assessment to guide future instruction, intervention, and enrichment. The Chip In! strategy works for ALL grades and ALL subject areas. Get some chips, a bucket, and create responses that fit for your class!
Recently, I had the chance to be a fly on the wall of a middle school classroom where, from the moment I entered the room, the warmth of the environment and the tight focus on learning were palpable. It was only a few minutes into the period when I noticed how carefully the instructor chose her words: this welcoming environment and the clear focus on learning were clearly supported by her diction choices.
It’s common to spend a lot of time on the ‘big things’ in our classrooms, such as fine-tuning our curriculum, considering various spatial structures, implementing strong instructional strategies, and establishing clear policies and procedures. Simultaneously, we must be sure not to overlook one of the littlest things that has some of the biggest impact: our words.
Three specific areas where our diction choices can have a notable impact are:
Below are some specific examples.
Increasing Student Engagement
Ensuring Cultural Responsiveness
Growing a Growth Mindset
That middle school classroom I observed a few weeks ago had an instructor who was strong in making diction choices that mattered in all three of these above areas. She seemed aware of how her words helped establish a classroom culture and maintain academic rigor.
Do you have questions or thoughts on this topic? Consider reaching out to your Instructional Coach or one of us on the Secondary Curriculum and Instruction team. We’d love to help you explore this further.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
I am no expert on mindfulness, let me be clear; however, I do find joy in reading blogs and articles around the power of the mind and the impact of one’s attitude. At a leadership meeting, Superintendent Muñoz asked us each to name three positive things that happened the day before. I will be honest, it took me a bit to identify three things! I decided right then and there I need to get into the habit of reflecting at the end of my day. I intentionally identify three positive things from the day before I go to bed each night. This has made a difference both in how I sleep at night and how I feel in the morning when I wake up.
Blogger Leo Babauta of Zen Habits writes the way to change our mental habits is “with awareness, with honesty, with an open heart, and with appreciation of the immense joy of life in the midst of chaos.” I find this exceptionally helpful, empowering even, to know that during the busy holiday season, during hectic times at work, when I feel pulled in too many directions to count, I can find joy in my life.
Images taken by Heather Lyke
As you prepare for your winter break, let me encourage a few simple mindful activities that you may try (shared from ‘6 Mindfullness Exercises You Can Try Today’ published by Pocket Mindfulness). I like this list as the activities are simple, can be done quickly and anywhere, while yet having the potential to make a big difference!
Be well. Be good to yourself and others. And remember, you make a difference.
This post brought to you by Jayne Gibson, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Rochester Public Schools
Connect with Jayne Gibson via email or by calling 507.328.4301
If you’d like to explore mindfullness more fully, consider starting the new year off strong by joining one of these two upcoming PD Express courses:
Both begin in January. Connect with facilitator Laura Lenz if you have further questions.
Grading for Learning (Part II)
In my initial blog post 'Grading for Learning' I highlighted several counterproductive and/or destructive grading practices that I wish I had been able to avoid as a classroom teacher. Part II of this blog series will focus on two of these practices: homework and extra credit. As always, my goal is to encourage and challenge you to think about your grading practices intentionally and to ask yourself these four questions:
Why do I assign grades to student work?
What purpose should student grades serve?
What elements should I use in determining student grades?
How can I best represent student learning in my grading?
I have completed considerable reading and research into homework: both its purpose and its effect on student learning, achievement, and engagement. Simply put, the positive effects of homework are directly tied to the age of the student and depend heavily on the purpose and alignment of the work assigned.
As you may remember from the first post of this blog series, I used to assign homework to my German students based upon what workbook pages were linked to the textbook pages we had covered that day in class. Seemed simple and purposeful enough at the time, which it very well could have been for some of my students. Had I stopped for even a minute to think about the differing levels of understanding amongst my students I would have realized that some of my students were not ready to complete those assignments on their own, at home, and/or with a parent/guardian who likely didn’t speak or read German. I also had students who were advanced enough in their learning that the work I was assigning was a simple compliance task and took time away from learning that was likely more important for them at the time. Additionally, the feedback I provided was simply nonexistent. I was more concerned about if students completed their homework and paid little attention to their demonstrated learning or to identifying gaps in my own instruction.
So what would I suggest to teachers questioning the validity of their homework assignments? I think there are a handful of things you can do and you might even select more than one of these ideas to implement:
In my opinion, there are two types of extra credit. And, for the sake of transparency: (1) I used both of them when I was in the classroom and (2) I no longer believe in the use of either of them.
My suggestion for extra credit if far more straightforward than for homework. I believe that if the content and/or learning is important and purposeful it should be a part of your required formative or summative assessment. If not, then we shouldn’t be awarding academic credit for it.
As always, I am more than happy to discuss these and other topics related to grading and reporting with anyone interested in the topic. Please look for Part III of the 'Grading for Learning' blog series, which will be posted in late February: I'll be discussing academic dishonesty and late work!
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
The Cleveland Indians finished a historic 22 game run in August and September. I’m not a big baseball fan and I generally avoid hearing anything about the Cleveland Indians; however, since their World Series appearance last fall avoiding it is becoming increasingly harder to do.
Setting aside historic trauma, there is one common factor that affects students across urban, rural, suburban, and reservation locations: negative racial stereotypes. These stereotypes are all around us from the food we eat to the Halloween costume store, from the films we watch to the books we read. The most common stereotypes seen are the dehumanizing mascots in our high schools, colleges, and major professional sports leagues. The topic of dehumanizing mascots reached the Minnesota school board in 1988 when they identified them as negative and harmful to students. In 2005 the American Psychological Association, in their Resolution Recommending Retirement of American Indian Mascots, proposed an “immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools college universities, athletic teams and organizations.” This was “based on a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portals.” Nonetheless, such mascots remain representatives of our professional teams across the nation.
So what does this mean to educators? I am asking that, as an educator, you please be conscious of the images and messages used in your classroom. Please use reliable sources when teaching and discussing Native Americans, such as the ones found here. It is easy to teach about Native Americans only in the context of the past, as if Native Americans are now gone, but that is a fallacy. Sometimes we show images of them wearing headdresses, living in tee pees, and fighting with the “white man,” but forget to show the bigger picture. We do not want to leave Native Americans in the 19th century: Native Americans are here and are in today’s classrooms.
When thinking about what one teaches students, it is fundamental that students are taught that Rochester, Southeast Minnesota, the entire state, and the entire continent once belonged to hundreds of thriving societies. This nation wasn’t just empty space that was stumbled upon and inhabited with no impact to anyone.
Even more important to acknowledge is that today these societies are made up of 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States (there are additional tribes that are not federally recognized or that have lost their federal status). Plus, there are also the indigenous people of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Samoa to consider. Within the state of Minnesota there are eleven federally recognized tribes: these tribal nations are representative of two different nations of people. Seven of the tribal nations are of Ojibwe or Anishinabe people. The other four tribal nations are Dakota: these Dakota people made their way back to their ancestral lands after being outlawed, murdered, and forcibly removed from Minnesota a century earlier. Some students may not even realize that the word Minnesota (Mini –Sota) means “land where the water reflects the sky”—a Dakota phrase that pre-dates the country of America.
In Rochester Public Schools we have approximately 150 Native American students. These students are on a continuum from full blood Native to second generation descendants. The families that make up these 150 students are from 37 different Native Nations. Our students’ collective knowledge about their home communities and their people vary as much as their blood quantum and tribal nation diversity. What is constant is that they all identify as being Native American.
What does this mean for our Native American students? Statistically, it means that only 49% are likely to graduate high school in four years. It also means these students will struggle with academics, violence, and legal issues.
The academic numbers here are largely representative of the rest of the state.
If you want more information on this topic, or to understand this topic further, please contact me or attend the “Not Your Mascot” session during the district wide, October 5th professional development day.
If I had a nickel for every time a student came up to me after a test, the last week of the quarter, or even after report cards were released and asked “What can I do to raise my grade?” I might have been able to retire before I hit the age of 30. At the time it was easy for me to blame each of these conversations on point grubbing or students who didn’t prepare well enough the first time, but the fact of the matter is that I had created a game for them and they were simply playing by my rules. I realize now that the grading system I used in the classroom was a simple translation of the system I had experienced as a student and as a student teacher. In fact, perhaps like many of you, my very first grade book was primarily set up by my mentor teacher, with very little input from me. I didn’t know any better and there were far more important things, in my mind, to worry about than my gradebook. If I had only taken a moment to ask myself a few simple questions I might have avoided utilizing the following counterproductive and/or destructive grading practices:
So what questions would I pose to my first-year-teacher self? There are four of them—simple in nature, but can be very difficult to answer:
These are the four questions that were posed to the Secondary Grading Committee when they created the Purpose and Beliefs document related to grading, as shown below:
I encourage all RPS teachers to review this document and ask yourself these four simple questions.
In subsequent blog posts, I will be sharing some tips and tricks within some of these key grading and reporting areas. In the meantime, I encourage you to talk about grading and reporting with your colleagues and, if you don’t mind a good dose of passion, contact me and I'll join the conversation!
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
It’s that time of year again. The birds are chirping. The grass is green. My allergies are flaring. And, I’ve put away my winter clothes. Spring is here, Rochester, and that means summer is right around the corner!
Ah, summer. That perfect time of year when we recharge our batteries, spend time with loved ones, stay up late (or wake up early if you’re not me), and take trips to the cabin or places unknown yet long awaited. My stress level decreases at just the thought of it all.
Not everyone, however, shares my outlook for summer. For many of our students, summer becomes a time of great uncertainty. What will I do today? Where will I go? Will I be alone? Will there be anything to eat?
Many students in our community look at summer as anything but the ‘perfect time of year’. Their summers are filled with babysitting siblings, looking for food, spending unstructured time alone or trying to find a place to escape the heat of their air condition-less homes or apartments.
This is not the summer I want for any student in our community.
For over five years, I have been researching, advocating for and working to implement the community schools model at three of our Rochester Public Schools sites: Gage Elementary, Riverside Central Elementary, and the Rochester Alternative Learning Center. The community school is a strategy for organizing school and community resources for student success. This strategy makes explicit that in order to significantly improve the academic and developmental outcomes of children, schools and community partners must work together to ensure that all students have an equitable opportunity to succeed in school.
There are seven principles that guide the community schools approach to school transformation. They are:
So, what does this look like at our three Rochester Community School sites?
It looks like community schools site facilitators placed at each site, housed within a family resource center and charged with being the connector for the site. The site facilitator connects families to engagement and volunteer opportunities, community partners to new and exciting (usually hands on) ways to address content standards, students to resources necessary for success (e.g. school supplies, a healthy snack, winter boots, a mentor) and staff to additional resources and professional development supports. But, that’s not all! Connections between all stakeholders continue to grow and flourish due to the support of the site facilitator.
It looks like community partners coming together to address students’ needs. The United Way of Olmsted County serves as our backbone partner; providing us human resources and greater outreach to the Rochester community. This year, we co-hosted our first Rochester Community Schools and United Way professional development training on Results Based Accountability. This two day training included RPS staff and partners from over 15 partner organizations. Moving forward, we are formalizing our partnership onboarding and accountability plans so that community schools sites and partners can deepen their focus in order to impact student achievement.
It looks like an environment where students are at the center. Students are supported by opportunities like powerful learning experiences, integrated health and social supports, and authentic family and community engagement. Collaborative practices like engaged stakeholders, shared ownership and decision making, data-driven planning and resource coordination make these opportunities successful. The results of this focus are college, career and civic-ready students, strong families, and a healthy community.
In the new ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) we are charged with “providing all children significant opportunity to receive fair, equitable and high-quality education to close educational achievement gaps.” I believe that the community schools strategy offers a framework to meet this challenge. Our three ‘hubs’ are continue to growth and develop as they respond to student need. If there is a barrier in the way of student success, diverse stakeholder teams are working together to address it. Students’ needs are being met and the entire community is pitching in.
So, back to summer. How will we be addressing the inequities that summer brings? We’ll be using our ‘hubs’ to open the buildings to students and families. Our resource rooms will have open hours. We will partner with the Rochester Public Library and Channel One to go into the community and read and do hands on learning activities with students and provide summer snack bags. We will have planned family engagement events. We will have planned professional development opportunities for staff and community partners. We will meet with community partners to continue partnership planning and development.
We will keep students at the center.
If you would like more information, please feel free to stop by one of our community school sites. They are always excited to share the work that they’re doing! Plus, the Coalition for Community Schools website is very informative.
EL students come from numerous backgrounds. Some EL students were born in the United States, some are immigrants and others are refugees. So what is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee? How do I help my refugee students in my classroom? Hopefully the information in this blog post will answer some questions you may have about the EL students in your classrooms and how you can support them.
What is the definition of refugee and immigrant? According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRCR) “a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.” Refugees often cannot return to their home country for many years, or they may never return. An immigrant is a person who makes a conscious decision for several different reasons to leave their home country and live in a different country. They may return to their home country any time that they choose. Refugees and immigrants are both learning how to live in a new country and learning a new language. They are also learning how to navigate new cultural norms that may be very different from their own.
The Ted Ed video “What does it mean to be a refugee?” is a great video to understand more about refugees.
There are many challenges that refugee children face when they begin their life in their new country. One of the most significant challenges is that many refugees face mental health issues due to the extremely stressful situations that they left. Many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the terrifying events that they may have witnessed or experienced. As an educator, it is important to recognize the signs of PTSD in refugees and seek out services to help students if they are experiencing such signs. You can find signs and symptoms of PTSD on the Kids Health website.
So how do I support my refugee students in my classroom? The articles How to Support Refugee Students in the ELL Classroom from the Colorín Colorado website and Ways Teachers Can Help Refugee Students: Some Suggestions from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network provide a few key strategies to support refugees:
If you have any questions or would like to workshop some ideas regarding our refugee students , please reach out to me.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
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