Category Archives: Meetings

Collaboration & Teams

Negative Nancy is back at it again.

Today we had a great session of scale-building and assigning standards to specific classes when Nancy decided it was time to rant. She doesn’t like commonality, doesn’t want to assess on her own time, and doesn’t want to follow others but wants to lead everyone. The problem with leaders like Nancy is that they frequently find no one behind them when they are blazing trails. Of course, blazing trails can be a good thing as long as a scorched earth policy isn’t implemented.

However, on a much more positive note, I got to work with another group of teachers who jumped into the work today with gusto. Loved it! Everyone was active, all gave input, each person got involved in the debate, and we came to consensus without any difficulty. We should have filmed the session!

OK happy face_full

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Meetings, Meetings, and a Little Planning

Today was the culmination of a week of meetings, and how did we celebrate this? With another meeting!

All in all, though, they weren’t that bad, and I led two of the meetings. It’s rare that it happens, but three people actually said “thank you,” which I appreciated. I’ve had a few students who would make a point of saying “thanks” before leaving the classroom, and I never forget those students and moments. A word of thanks seems so unusual these days. Sad for that, but happiness from today’s appreciative words. Complaining is so easy, but why is a “thank you” seemingly so hard?

While I was working a few students stopped by to chat briefly. They had gotten their schedules and were walking the halls to map out their future daily travels; I think they strategize how to maximize their route, so they can socialize during passing time. Anyway, it was nice to see them and good of them to want to stop by for a minute or two.

Kids get a bad rap too often. 99% of my interactions and experiences with students are positive, and I have to remember not to let the 1% dominate my thoughts, but it’s natural, I guess. My thoughts will drift to what could have been done differently any time something doesn’t go to plan rather than also reflecting on what went well to reinforce that behavior.

Can you tell I’m ready for classes to start?

P.S. The second meeting I ran finished early, the only one today to do so. Awesome!

Wall Decorations, the ACT, Evaluations, and Common Core

I met with a colleague for about an hour discussing some literature that we commonly teach, and I think we have some good ideas for a couple common assessments. I also scheduled another session with one other teacher for this weekend.

There is no professional development like meaningful collaboration time with another teacher. I get more out of it than any staff meeting, all-district training, or conference. The free flow of ideas, the new points of view, and the discovery as a tandem or team truly allows me to grow and to better my practice.

Once this discussion ended I started setting up my bulletin boards and completed a couple. Institutional cream just doesn’t inspire me and seems to dull the senses of my students. If I am going to spend 8-12 hours at a stretch in my classroom, I need some color and something to keep me comfortable without being put to sleep.

I spent about an hour reading education articles, and these were my favorites:

  • If you have not been the last few posts from here regarding the feds’ short-sighted mandates, then you’re missing an important series of conversations.
  • Washington State is #1 in SAT scores, but this report indicates that nationwide ACT scores could be a canary in a coal mine.
  • If you want to know what I’ve been discussing with my district (about how alarmed I am about the new tests aligned with Common Core standards), this article writer explains it better than I did.

First Meeting of the Year

The first meeting of the year is in the books, and we actually finished early. Amazing to think that I can’t even recall the last meeting that ended before the scheduled finish time. Nothing of work importance occurred; we simply had a meet and greet of sorts to introduce the school leaders to one another.

In the past I have said “I hope that when I die I hope it happens during a staff meeting, so the transition from life to death is so gradual.” However, this didn’t apply. Maybe it’s a good sign for future meetings.

Later in the day yesterday, a few of us got together to have a BBQ and discuss school planning and some collaboration ideas. Food is an excellent incentive, and the BBQ kept everything informal. Really, we just brainstormed ideas for how to start the year, how to collaborate in our grade level teams, and how to incorporate more types of literature into our units.

This food-for-thought session will help me get some curriculum mapping done and gave me a few ideas to research prior to school starting. More to come on this later.

Preparing for the Politics of Grades

January will be an interesting month as my school heads into the final weeks of 1st semester. It’s a fun time of the year, but it’s also one full of pitfalls and the one I dread the most is the grading conversation on the horizon.

While helicopter parents can be annoying, they are (for me) less daunting than the parents who simply want to negotiate the final grade a student earns. I have already received fair warning that one  student’s parents will be trying to increase her daughter’s grade if it’s not an A.

I simply find these conversations annoying, and a no-win for anyone. I find them tedious. Parents walk away without a change.

I never change a grade that a student earns based on a parent conversation. I tell parents and students that “I record what is earned.” I often repeat that “I don’t give grades. Students earn grades.”

Well, this is put to the test each year, so when a parent asks me to raise a grade I respond with one or more of the following depending on the situation:

  • “So, you’re asking me to cheat for your child?”
  • “Are you asking me to lie?”
  • “Do you often ask people to lie for you?”
  • “What would this teach your child?”
  • (if speaking to a fellow teacher) “Do you cheat for your students?”
  • (if speaking to a fellow teacher) “Do you lie for your students?”

Most of the time, one of these questions ends the discussion. Then I document the incident for future reference.

The PAC-10, the SEC, and the SAT

I’m a college football fan who watches every Saturday, and I love it (even though a playoff system is sorely needed). I also admit that I’m a West Coast kid who loves PAC-10 football and who tires of having to hear SEC fans always claim their conference is tops. I live in a time zone where our games frequently begin after the East Coast has gone to sleep, and I live in a region where the teams are spread far apart and must travel great distances unlike the East where teams are bunched. And, I hate to admit it, the SEC has faired very well in the BCS era of football championships.

However, there is an argument I have yet seen an SEC fanatic counter. Each PAC-10 team plays nine conference games while the SEC plays only eight conference games. Why does this matter you ask? Well, let me tell you this: this means the PAC-10 will incur 5 more losses than teams in the SEC. The conference is guaranteed that more teams will end the season with no shot at a national title and most likely will be eliminated from any BCS contention.

This means that a team like Florida (who has done this multiple times recently) will schedule four patsy non-conference games usually at home, play their 8-game conference schedule, and attempt to schedule their toughest 2-3 games at home. This is quite an advantage over the PAC-10 whose non-conference schedules are generally tougher, whose teams play an extra in-conference game against a tough opponent and whose conference will be adding a conference title game soon (which will again guarantee a top-conference team suffering a season-ending loss).

Granted, the SEC has its share of good and very good teams; however, when a team plays more tough games, it is more likely to lose more games. This makes titles more difficult to win.

This relates to the SAT (and AP testing for that matter). I was at a meeting where my high school was critiqued for having the average SAT score dip slightly in the last three years. Apparently, a sign of success at a school is to track the SAT scores of its students–even though the SAT has no correlation to any state standard or state test used–and then compare those scores to classes of years past. In fact, my high school has eliminated the only class designed specifically with SAT success particularly in mind in its quest for all block classes.

To a degree I agree with score comparisons. However, what I pointed out is that we are testing 15% more students than we did 5 years ago, and most of those students are from the poverty and ELL cells in the measurement matrix. If we aren’t only testing our best students, of course the scores will fall. Some may say that I’m making excuses, but I don’t think so. Having a larger, more diverse pool of students taking the SAT is absolutely going to affect the results.

I’ve made the same argument about the AP tests our students take. We have more students taking AP English (my department’s sole AP option), and more of those students have never attempted any sort of honors class previously. We are not seeing as high of a percentage of  students scoring a 5 (the top score), and more students being tested means the average score has dropped slightly. I’m fine with this. (I have also noticed that the AP essay questions have altered slightly and the scoring appears to have changed a bit too, but that’s an entirely different discussion.)

But again, if more students from a broad spectrum of backgrounds are involved in the testing, the results will be different than when it was easier to achieve higher average scores with only the best being tested. We probably need to adjust our expectations if we want to test everyone.

More tough games played results in more losses. More students tested results in more lower scores.

And besides all this, no SEC team wants to play Stanford in the postseason this year.