End of the 2016-17 school year

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-2. I always enjoy writing my end of school year post. It’s a great way of wrapping my head around all that has happened during the last ten months.

-1. It’s the last day of school – what a difference a year makes! This time last June I was finishing off a ten-year tenure at my previous school, eager for a new beginning. Well, this year was eventful, to say the least. No lie, part of me is surprised that I actually survived it.

0.  I should start with how whiteboarding transformed my instruction this year. I’ve had small, desk-sized whiteboards for years, but usually only pulled them out for review. After Alex Overwijk’s session last year at TMC16, I knew that I had to use some VNPS and VRG this year. It only took until March, but I did. I dabbled with creating flow and it was  a game changer!

1. All the classrooms are shared at my school so this is a stretch, but I’m thinking of completely defronting my classroom next year. It probably won’t fly next year, but I want my desk in the middle of the room.

2. After I hit my groove with the large whiteboards, it was all downhill from there. We dry-erased ourselves to death. I was also lucky enough to have desks in my room that are dry-erase friendly. I also picked up these sheets, which came in handy while sketching trigonometric and polynomial functions.

3. Through all of this, I discovered the immense learning value and functionality in dry erase. Kids were far more willing to get an answer wrong, to take risks. They knew their work wasn’t permanent. In fact, not only was it easy to edit their work, it was downright fun at times. At a deeper level, they stopped caring so much about being wrong.

4. My standards-based grading ran into a wall this year. This deserves a post in and of itself. But to make a long story short: I made my SBG marks cumulative for the year. What a student learns (or doesn’t learn) in October is still reflected on their grade in June. This means that they had the opportunity retake any concept from any point during the year with no penalty. At the same time, they could also lose proficiency if they demonstrated a lack of understanding on a particular concept – even if they first learned in back in October, say. Most kids didn’t like the system, but I REALLY did. Hmm…

5. Three other bits about my SBG this year. First, as the year progressed, I began to drift away from SBG with my non-Regents (non-state tests) students. It got so hard to make their retakes a priority over my Regents students. This is a problem that I hope I address next year. Second, shortly after the year began, I started requiring students to reserve their seat ahead of time for retakes (instead of just showing up). Before this change, it was a mad house of 25 kids after school trying to retake their concepts. I limited it to 15 students and then it was ok. Lastly, I never found a way to for students who initially demonstrated proficiency to move up to mastery. My focus was on moving kids up from developing to proficiency. The solution may lie in not requiring them to tutor with me before retaking. We’ll see.

6. For the first time in my career, I wrote an end of year letter to my students. I write them all the time anyhow, so I figured why not end the year with one final letter. Each class got their own and it was almost two pages. I included a remark about every student in each class. It really hit home with the kids. One student even said that she was going to frame it.

7. I blame this on my first year blues, but I let too much go this year – especially with my first period class. They were off the wall for much of the year and I was pretty embarrassed by the lack of control I had. I gave them too much latitude early on and it came back to bite me. Across the board, I need to tighten things up next year.

8. Being naive, I attempted to have a parent newsletter. Just like last school year, it went strongly for three months and…flopped. Badly. I don’t want to give up on this idea, but it’s not looking good.

9. I need to call more parents. Maybe instead of a damn newsletter, I make an effort to call each and every parent at the start of the school year. And then follow up as necessary.

10. Being the first year that I’ve taught Common Core Algebra 2, I struggled in knowing what to exactly teach the kids. Let’s just say that I learned a lot of mathematics this year. And I was good until around December…and that’s when the pacing calendar went out the window. I was forced to omit two entire units.

11. For the past several years, I did my best to preplan entire units. I’m talking having detailed handouts for every lesson before the unit begins. Th goal was to think ahead and build strong connections between lessons and key ideas. Because of my struggles with the curriculum, I came to the realization that this practice actually causes me more harm than good. By trying to follow the road map that I constructed prior to the start of the unit, I didn’t leave room flexibility in my students’ thinking that naturally occurred as they learned new things. This whole situation makes me think of this nugget of wisdom that Patrick Honner dropped on me a couple of years ago.

12. My homework structure got better this year. Unit-based DeltaMath was good. Having students check the paper homework it was a success. I realized, though, that I gradually stopped lagging it. This may be related to the curricular issues, but found it hard to plan the homework each night. Next year, I might give the students homework on Friday and make it due the following Friday – with all lagged problems. Then again, I’m now toying with the idea of no homework at all.

13. My A.P. is outstanding. She was the breath of fresh air.

14. Dan Meyer was equally outstanding in his three-part PD series that I attended.

15. A huge professional accomplishment this year was submitting component 2 of my National Board Certification. Damn that thing was work. OMG. I just remembered that I have to submit two more of these next year.

16. Math for America honored me with a Renewal Master Teacher Fellowship. My growth during these last four years has much to do with their influence on my career, so I’m thoroughly pleased that I will be continuing to grow and lead through this dynamic community. On a semi-unrelated note, I co-authored a post on the MfA blog.

17. In March, I was named a Big Apple Award Finalist. Frankly, I don’t know how the hell this happened. I’m grateful though.

18. At the beginning of the school year, I had every student write me a letter introducing themselves. I gave loose guidelines of what I hoped they’d tell me and said that I would write each of them a personalized letter in return. Well, it’s June 28 and not only did I not write everyone back, but I didn’t even read many of the letters until last week. (Reading their letters after a year of getting to know them was pretty interesting, though.) Shame on me!

19. The Token of Appreciation was lost on two different occasions in two different classes this year. Nonetheless, it was still a great year in appreciating the small moments that exist between us.

20. As I stood outside my classroom door this year, I started dishing out high-fives to random students (and staff members) as they walked by me. It was spontaneous, fun, and a total mood-lifter. Also, my fifth-period class always gave me a round of applause at the start of class. I gave them an applause as they exited. It was strange – and totally unforgettable.

21. The estimation wall was a total hit. And thanks to the inspiration from Sara VanDerWerf, so were the random problems that I posted in the hallway. From students to staff, everyone was doing, and loving, mathematics. This is genius.

22. The Mathematicians Beyond White Dudes initiative was a huge success this year. At the end of the year, I even had a girl present a mathematician that she learned about on a school field trip.

23. I learned how far we need to go, as a school community, to deliberately address race and other social issues with students and staff. A lot goes ignored. Too much in fact. More to come.

24. I’m super excited for next year. I should be teaching the first ever mathematics elective at my school, which will be treat. It’ll probably be filled with kids that need a class and not because they’ve elected to be there, but I’m still eager to explore mathematics beyond Regents and A.P. exams, which is all they know. Also, I hope to kickstart either a mathematics or Educators Rising club next year. I’m on the fence about which it’ll be. The summer will help me decide.

25. The Day in the Life series that I wrote this year challenged my will at times, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It was a wonderful way to capture what was probably the most pivotal year of my career.

27. During a group quiz towards the end of the year, I took notes on student discussions and specific things that students did as they related to productive group work (explaining thinking, showing work, asking good questions, being helpful, etc). At the end of the quiz, I spent three minutes sharing one outstanding thing that I witnessed from each group. It helped push back against social status and helped show them what’s important…which isn’t to know lots of mathematics. I want to do more of this public acknowledgment of student thinking.

28. I learned a lot about my goals this year. Looking back at the goals I set back in September, I made reasonable progress on numbers 2, 4, 6, and 8. If I go ahead and say that I “achieved” those goals (which is pushing it), then that means I had a success rate of 4/10. Whatever. In the end, what I really take from all this is that my focus this year was far too broad. I wanted to change way too much.

29. If I’m honest, it’s the end of June and I’m bothered by the fact that I still don’t feel rooted in my school. While I feel the wheels turning in the right direction, right now I’m not completely invested in what’s happening here. I suppose this is normal given that I just finished my rookie year. But still.

30. Anyhow, year 11 is now in the books. Here’s to making 2017-18 great. See you next June.

 

bp

Close of the 2015-16 school year

CLassroom 2015-16

-1. It’s that time of year again. The last day of school. Time to get decompress, reflect, and wonder where the hell the year went.

0. Last year proved to be eventful, but this year actually doubled up on that. Whew. Another change in administration. Another roller coaster ride.

1. Probably my biggest takeaway from this year was what I learned about leadership. A huge part of this was my participation in the Learning Partners program and my role as a Model teacher. Visiting other schools and spearheading change in my school made me realize where I am in my career and expectations that I should have for those around me.

2. I loved my classroom set up this year, especially the U-shaped group structure. It allowed me to efficiently assess student understanding. Also, the desks could easily be pushed together for a more intimate group setting. Next year: systematically establishing interdependency by making group work the norm. This will be huge.

3. Game changer: the video-based professional development that I facilitated this year. I experienced so much growth related to this. A more detailed post coming soon.

4. Over the years my parental outreach has been dismal. This year I was proud that I began  sending out a monthly “newsletter” via email that contained upcoming events, class announcements, etc. But about three months in, I fell off. Next year, I want to use MailChimp or a similar service to help with this. This is a must do!

5. I promoted far more inquiry in my lessons this year. I had students doing more – more sense making, more investigating relationships – not just paying attention to procedures. I have a long way to go, but I made significant progress.

6. My homework policy this year drifted into nothingness. I started the year strong and slowly, over time, stopped checking it. It was disappointing. I love the idea of lagging it, but I want to greatly simplify the homework experience. Possibly include a reflection (which I want to heavily promote next year) question followed by 2-5 mathematical problems, 1-2 of which are lagged. I may also go with one weekly homework assignment where concepts aren’t indicated for each problem – similar to an exam.

7. As a means of promoting introspection, I chose to compose one deeply reflective tweet per day during the #MTBoS30 challenge in May. I forced myself, every day, to think earnestly about an aspect of my teaching in a concerted manner. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and it was awesome.

8. Lagging my unit exams was a great experience. I just need to ensure that I don’t fall too far behind, which happened this year. I also liked the audits as a means of keeping student knowledge, and records of their knowledge, current. I’m definitely going to stick with both of these assessment structures moving forward.

9. This year I officially began the process of becoming National Board Certified. It will no doubt be a long, arduous process, but a welcomed one.

10. My interest in robotics declined this year. Instead, I’ve rediscovered and rekindled my long-lasting love for mathematics. Although I’ve taught mathematics my entire career – my wholehearted dedication towards perfecting how I teach the content hasn’t always been there. Things are different now.

11. After a couple of years planning, I kickstarted an after-school bicycle club. Moving on two wheels has long been a passion of mine, so sharing this love with students was special.

12. Reflecting on the goals I set for the year, what didn’t I accomplish? Conferencing with students didn’t happen…like, at all. A complete waste of an awesome table I set up in my room. Earning highly effective. Eh. Thankfully, I’ve moved beyond the whole rating thing this year. The retakes culture in my classroom improved this year, but I still need to do better at promoting/mandating this growth mindset structure. There were many after-school sessions where every student was working on a different concept. It was beautiful. I’ve also raised my expectations for students, but I’m still not where I need to be. I did seek student feedback, but more so at the end of the year. I tried, but still couldn’t manage to have my students effectively answer “why am I doing this?” during lessons.

13. My end-of-year algebra 2/trigonometry state exam results were much better this year. I’m proud (read: disappointed) that I’m getting better at teaching my students how to be better test takers of mathematics.

14. Starting in October, every Friday I sent a Reflections email to my colleagues in the mathematics department. It was always an impromptu collection of highlights and interesting happenings from the week we experienced. It was a way of digesting the week in a positive, motivating way. It allowed me to connect with my department on a personal level and they seemed to enjoy it. I’m so proud of this.

15. My standards-based grading was more focused and worthwhile this year. I am thinking of a shift that puts more emphasis on depth of understanding within the domains of mathematics (and not assess concepts in isolation). I was able to use the performance data to drive instruction and remediation strategies, like tutoring. I also began emailing progress reports to students and parents on a weekly basis, which was a big step forward. Although, the layout of the email could be improved.

16. The Token. I just love this. It created a warm atmosphere that went beyond mathematics and injected a good dose of humanity into us all. There were multiple Fridays when I forgot to initiate the passing, which I’m not happy about. That said, the kids took upon themselves to pass it without me many times. Next year, I want a small, simple poster that displays the current holder of the token.

17. I created a class calendar in my room using whiteboard paper. This was simple, but meaningful. I will make it larger next year. I need to post student birthdays!

18. I got far fewer Friday letters this year. Maybe I should get into the habit of placing the box near the front of the room on Fridays so that we all can be reminded? At the same time, I wrote my students a lot this year – especially while they took exams.

19. I have been highly critical of those making excuses this year, including myself. If something doesn’t happen, it’s because that thing wasn’t a priority. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Discover what matters and pour everything you have into it. Don’t look back.

20. This year was a crossroads for me. The 2016-17 school year will bring dramatic changes to my career and school family. I’ve never been more ready for the sunrise that I’ll witness in September 2016. Here’s to writing the next chapter.

 

bp

End of the 2014-15 school year

Classroom Spring 2015

-1. Several weeks ago I began thinking about the end of the school year. I suddenly realized the startlingly amount of reflection that awaited me. Today is the last day of school and the only way for me to systematically get it all out is in a list. Here goes.

0. Leading up to this year, my school had a solid four-year stretch of low-turnover and highly stable school atmosphere. 2014-15 not only broke that streak…it was shattered and thrown it under a bus. Things were quite eventful.

1. With any change in leadership, one should expect adjustment in the day-to-day happenings. I found that I had grown too comfortable under previous leadership. Things and people change and I need to evolve with these changes so my productivity doesn’t stagger.

2. During and after vast transformations this year, my optimism was put to the test several times and, in some cases, folded. After scarring disappointments early on, it took a good amount of time to rededicate myself to the school’s mission. I let my frustration get the best of me at times – which I don’t regret. Live and learn.

3. What kept me going? What kept me from completely disconnecting from my school community?

4. The incredibly inspirational people around me. My students. My colleagues (in and out of my school). People I’ve never met. My family.

5. Teachers at my school are an awesome bunch. Despite the disarray abound, somehow they found a way to use their collective strength to keep us moving forward.

6. This was also my first school year blogging, which had a great deal to do with my naturally reflective nature this year. It framed my teaching like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I gained serious perspective by reflecting on my own practices via my blog.

7. I implemented standards-based grading. In terms of assessment, it’s one of the best moves I’ve ever made. I committed to it mid-year, which was tough, but it worked pretty much as planned. I had students assess their own retake exams, which was great, but I need to make a stronger push for retakes next year.

8. I helped plan weekly district-mandated professional development sessions for colleagues at my school. I found it both more engaging and challenging than I imagined before the year began. Professionally, this was an area of growth I didn’t expect. Thanks to MfA, I’ll be taking that a step further next year with my video club.

9. I absolutely struggled with four preps in the fall. The quality of my teaching was stretched thin and my students were shortchanged immensely.

10. I was entitled department chair in the spring. The math department had a tough year and we have a long journey ahead. I hope I am able to provide whatever leadership we need. That said, I passionately hate titles and the connotation that often comes along with them. They are hollow and irrelevant. I just want my work to be meaningful, collaborate, and help all of us reach another level.

11. Our robotics team made progress this year. We performed noticeably better than during the last two years of the program. Next year I hope to use class time (versus after-school) for competition preparation. This should afford the kids more time to build and tweak the robot. My robotics class expanded to include introductory arduinos along with the usual Lego Mindstorms.

12. My students did rather poorly on state exams. This is very disappointing given the amount of work both the students and myself have put in this year. So much so that I began questioning myself. How can I adjust to improve this result?

13. A woman leading a PD once told me “When my students don’t succeed, I look in the mirror and ask What could I have done differently?” This has stuck with me all year. It’s not about all the issues, setbacks, and lack of prerequisite skills that students bring into the classroom that hinders their learning. Instead, all that matters is what I do to meet their needs and get them to succeed. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But this perspective is key for me in my hopes of one day becoming a great teacher.

14. I could have been a better mentor. Despite many shortcomings, I have experience and insight that is conducive to the growth of colleagues new to this profession. I did a poor job this year mentoring a new teacher. She is wonderful and would never tell me so, but inside I know I could have had a much better impact on her.

15. I tried many new approaches this year to teach my kids. Just as importantly, I also implemented new ways to reach them. Whether it was friday letterspersonal notestwo stage exams, plickers, speed dating, problem-based learning, exit slips, or others, I can say that I have definitely made an effort to improve the happenings in my classroom.

16. Following up on a new year’s resolutionintervisitations played a significant role in my development this year. I discovered the need to not only get outside my classroom, but outside of my building, and explore the work of others. It helped motivate a colleague and me to apply for the 2015-16 NYCDOE Learning Partners program, which we were accepted. More to come!

17. I relearned how to be patient with my students. Big ups to my AP for pushing me to slow down the pace of the class and remind me to provide more scaffolding.

18. Goal for 2015-16: highly effective. Focus for 2015-16: to be better than I was in 2014-15.

20. Every school year seems to fly by when you’re at the end of it. This one was no different. It was a bumpy flight, but it was over before I knew it. Another one in the books.

Until June 2016.

 

bp